Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Students want gender-neutral school washrooms


By Charles Hamilton, The Starphoenix:
Dani Despins doesn't go to the bathroom at school.
Despins, a Grade 12 student at Tommy Douglas Collegiate, has to leave the building to feel safe enough to enter a public washroom. The signs on the door just don't fit.
"I've had times where I've had to just not go to the bathroom because I feel so uneasy going into the washroom," Despins said.
Despins identifies as gender queer, and shies away from using any gendered pronoun. Now the student activist is asking the school division to install a genderneutral washroom at Tommy Douglas.
"You can get distracted from your actual work because you are so paranoid and you don't know what to do," Despins said, estimating about 20 students at Tommy Douglas would make use of a gender-neutral washroom.
One Saskatoon high school, Walter Murray Collegiate, has already installed two gender-neutral washrooms - single-stall facilities with locking doors. The signs outside indicate anyone, regardless of gender, can use them.
Those facilities are an important step in making transgender students feel safe, according to the youth and education co-ordinator at the Avenue Community Centre, Amanda Guthrie.
"I think going to the washroom is something we take for granted a lot, but for people who are gender queer or transgender or don't identify with the gender binary, this is a big deal," Guthrie said.
She's heard of students like Despins who wait all day to go to the washroom because they risk ridicule if they enter a standard washroom, and she knows students who have been accused of being the in "wrong washroom," she said.
Guthrie said she has been in contact with Saskatoon Public School Division officials, who told her they are working on the genderneutral washroom issue on a case-by-case basis.
Despite the mounting pressure, there is no word on whether a gender-neutral washroom will be installed at Tommy Douglas.
Guthrie said all initiatives to have gender-neutral washrooms are student-led and she commends the division for taking student concerns seriously. "Their voices are being heard."
No one from Saskatoon Public Schools was available to comment.
"To date, our division has not received any requests to provide washrooms signed specifically as genderneutral facilities," Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools spokeswoman Donella Hoffman said in an email.
"We do not have a policy about how we accommodate people who present with specific needs concerning washroom facilities in general," she added.
"We would respond to a request for gender-neutral facilities as we would to any student who asks for an accommodation in connection with washroom facilities, in that we would explore ways in which to meet their needs so that they feel safe, comfortable and respected." cthamilton@thestarphoenix.

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