I write this letter as a concerned UTM student, not an employee of this newspaper. Just before the holidays, The Medium published a front-page article about UTMSU’s Pee in Peace campaign. The campaign is calling to transform the current male and female washrooms in the Meeting Place in Davis into all-gender washrooms. This would mean that anyone who identifies with any gender would be able use either of those two washrooms, which are currently designated as male- or female-only. I have some concerns about the proposal that I wanted to raise.
Let me begin by clarifying that I am not opposed to building all-gender washrooms on campus, especially for students who do not feel comfortable or safe using the gender-segregated ones. But the proposed washrooms are being advertised on their posters as “for everyone”. This fails to take into account the students who in their own right would not feel safe or comfortable in an all-gender setting. If the current washrooms were converted into all-gender washrooms, those students would no longer have an accessible washroom that they could use in the Meeting Place.
To be clear, the campaign does call for renovations to the existing washrooms to increase privacy. Besides having stronger locks and smaller gaps under the stalls, UTMSU representatives said they’d also like to have mirrors placed inside the stalls, saying for example that they might be used by students who would like to adjust their hijabs. With all due respect, I do not think these measures are enough to ensure that every student would be comfortable using the washrooms. I wear a hijab and while I appreciate the gesture, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using an all-gender washroom with or without those mirrors. The meaning of “privacy” varies significantly from person to person and culture to culture, and that deserves equal respect.
Someone could argue that individuals who are uncomfortable using all-gender washrooms have the option to use a facility on another floor, while there are fewer options available to users of all-gender washrooms. While this may be true, I don’t believe that the solution lies in replacing the gender-specific washrooms in the Meeting Place, mainly because the Meeting Place is such a populated area and the washrooms there should be accessible to all. To address the needs of students who require all-gender washrooms, perhaps the campaign can call for a new washroom to be built in the same location.
The right to safe, accessible washroom facilities belongs to all of us. With that in mind, we should respect the needs of both the students who require all-gender washrooms as well as those who need gender-specific ones. To have all-gender washrooms in the Meeting Place at the expense of gender-specific ones will exclude some people and I don’t believe that’s appropriate or necessary. Why not ask for a third washroom and include all of us?