he 30 buildings on Western’s campus include 212 restrooms, and 196 of them are gender-segregated – meaning there are designated stalls for males and females. The remaining 16 bathrooms are gender-neutral, meaning they are not designated for any gender.
Ben Crowther, Associated Students Queer Resource Center Weekly Series coordinator, said the QRC set out to survey Western’s campus to find accessible gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. For campus survey, Crowther went to all 30 buildings and 212 restrooms and marked if the bathrooms were gender-segregated or gender-neutral, accessible, and multi-stall or single occupancy. The survey found 16 gender-neutral single-occupancy bathrooms.
The QRC did this survey to create a map of gender-neutral bathrooms that are important for many groups. These groups include parents who wish to accompany their differently-gendered child into the restroom, people living with disabilities who have a caregiver of a different gender, queer and transgender people, and people who don’t feel comfortable in gender-segregated restrooms.
Because of the lack of restrooms, the QRC sponsored a resolution to the AS Board of the Directors. In addition, the AS Women’s Center, Disability Outreach Center and Social Issues Resource Center co-sponsored the resolution. The resolution was brought before the AS Board of Directors on May 2, and passed with a unanimous vote. The board also supported the expansion of gender-neutral restrooms on campus. However, the resolution does not commence the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms. It only shows that the Board of Directors supports the issue.
“[The resolution] is a symbolic measure. We’ll continue to take steps to get this gender-neutral program,” AS Women’s Center Coordinator Kimberly Absher said.
Crowther said gender-neutral bathrooms are particularly important to some in the queer community.
In gender-segregated restrooms, people in those spaces will read the gender of those who enter the restroom. This can be unsafe for transgender people because people in restrooms may think they are the wrong gender, and harass them to leave, Crowther said.
Absher said gender-neutral bathrooms have always been a topic of conversation within the AS.
“[Gender-neutral restrooms] is a consistent issue that’s come up,” Absher said. “The reasons for having them are important because people need to feel safe.”
The gender-neutral restrooms are not widespread. Of the 16 gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, about three-quarters of the bathrooms are on north campus. They are not evenly distributed across campus and are not equally serving students, Crowther said.
Crowther is already preparing to take the next steps to see more gender- neutral restrooms built on campus. He met with the Equal Opportunity Office, and will be meeting with the head of the University Facilities Management to present the findings from their campus survey on gender-neutral restrooms.
Because the issue is ongoing, the Equal Opportunities Office was unable to make a public comment.
Crowther made three goals for gender-neutral restrooms: double the number of restrooms to 32 by the year 2020, evenly distribute the restrooms across campus, and amend the university’s building code for campus to include gender-neutral restrooms.
With their survey, the QRC found nine restrooms that were single-occupancy, but gender-segregated. Their hope is to convert those restrooms into gender-neutral restrooms by next fall. That would bring the total of gender-neutral restrooms to 25, and would only ask the university to build seven more.
“It’s not that we don’t want any gender-segregated restrooms on campus. We see the utility of having gender-segregated restrooms. Some people feel most safe in those spaces and we totally accept that,” Crowther said. “For the people who don’t feel the most safe, in those spaces they equally need to have options available.”
Brandi Ball, the DOC coordinator, said it’s important for people to have equal access to restrooms and equal accessibility.
“Accessibility is not just about the physical location or if the doors and locks are working,” Ball said. “It extends to being able to go to whatever bathroom you want.”
For people who feel uncomfortable in gender-segregated restrooms, finding one on campus can be a challenge.
“[People who need gender-neutral restrooms] have to think about what part of campus they are on and what buildings they are near. On south campus, one of the only gender-neutral restrooms is on the fifth floor of Environmental Sciences. If they are going between Fairhaven and Red Square, they don’t have time to climb five flights of stairs,” Crowther said.