Gender-neutral bathrooms better suit queer students

Everyone should be free to pee!

The installation of gender-neutral bathrooms around campus may be on the cards for the University, after a recent study by OUSA. Of the 1,357 students who participated in OUSA’s study, 43 students reported feeling uncomfortable using the current gender segregated facilities.

In a recent meeting with Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne, Queer Support Co-ordinator Neill Ballantyne and various members of Space, a group representing queer and trans students, urged the University to update their facilities to better cater for students who “do not fit into society’s expectations of the gender binary.”

The group described affected students to be anyone who “[identifies] as non-binary, non-gendered, bi-gendered, genderqueer or genderfluid.”
“At the moment people are forced into a gender binary that doesn’t suit them as individuals, and therefore they might be presenting
in a way which doesn’t fit within either gender,” claims Ballantyne.

For these students, visiting gender-specific bathrooms carries serious anxiety and a risk of verbal assault and threatening behaviour from other students. Ballantyne said the problem was “exacerbated for trans people who may not feel that they can ‘pass’ as their gender identity.”

Queer Support’s proposal calls for the University to commit to a unisex re-assigning of half the available bathrooms on campus. In addition to the transformation of existing bathrooms, a provision must be made to ensure new buildings are built inclusive of gender-neutral spaces. However, Ballantyne is quick to admit this goal is largely idealistic. “What we’re propos- ing is the best-case scenario, [but] the University is not going to do anything that costs money.”

“They’ve asked us to identify the areas of campus which are the most problem-areas ... [but] there’s a disparity between what we want and what they will do.”

The proposal deems the gender-neutral bathrooms in use at most of Dunedin’s Residential Colleges as “a good mandate” for the policy change. In addition, the proposal highlights the increasing prevalence of gender-neutral spaces in United States’ universities. This is to ensure all individuals remain free of “intimidation, harassment, run-ins with security, and/or violence,” as found in Portland Community College Policy. Otago University Property Services Manager Barry MacKay commented that the University does not currently provide specific services for transgender members of the University community.

While a dialogue surrounding the issue has been opened, MacKay says that plans remain in their initial stages. “Property Services has been asked to investigate the provision of gender-neutral facilities in existing buildings and for their inclusion in all new buildings. This process is underway.”
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2014.
Posted 9:16pm Sunday 10th August 2014 by Emily Draper.