First All Gender Bathrooms on Campus
University should be a place where all students, staff and members of the community feel safe, accepted and included. It’s at university where meaningful change can be made: ideas, thoughts and actions can instigate widespread societal transformation.
It’s these ideas from students that brought about the establishment of the first All Gender bathroom on campus.
4 all gender bathrooms have been designated for the Holme Building, with several more to be opened in Wentworth and Manning.
While trans* issues have made mainstream news recently, these issues are not just a fleeting news story - the discrimination and sense of not belonging is something that people have to deal with every day for their entire lives. A long term focus is needed to address these issues.
The idea of an all gender bathroom was conceived with a review conducted by the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board’s Queer Portfolio holder back in 2013. The recommendation was made, “that the USU investigates the possibility of installing gender-neutral bathrooms in any future redevelopment plans.” This initiated the investigation of the feasibility, logistics and development of an all gender bathroom on campus.
The USU recognised a clear need within the university community: for all individuals to be able to safely use bathroom facilities, without feeling pressured to use the cisnormative public bathrooms.
Alistair Cowie, Director of Sales, Marketing and Infrastructure for the USU emphasises the significance of this change.
“It is a particularly important issue for trans people who feel pressured to use cisnormative public bathrooms, complete with their binary gender identifiers: the male and female stick figures,” he says.
Cowie spoke about the All Gender bathrooms at the Association of College Unions International conference in San Antonio, Texas this year, to an overwhelmingly positive response and widespread interest from a range of international universities.
And now, after an extensive renovation of the Holme Building, the USU has opened the first All Gender bathroom on the University of Sydney campus. Consultation occurred with the queer community, to determine an appropriate course of action, particularly concerning the naming and signage of the bathrooms. From this, the community determined the term “All Gender” to be the most appropriate.
The term “All Gender Bathroom” was selected to promote the idea that all individuals are able to use the bathrooms, regardless of their gender identity or expression. New signage was also designed in consultation with the queer community.
The response from the university queer community has been generally positive, says current USU Board Member and Queer Portfolio holder Jack Whitney.
“At our university there is an increasing number of trans* and non-binary people who are unable to access gendered spaces," says Whitney. "These bathrooms are single and enclosed, which can offer safety to all people when in danger. But they also serve an important dual function for a variety of people who have a diversity of mental health and gendered and non-gendered experiences, offering them a safe and accessible space for some time out which is so important for the emotional wellbeing and long term mental and physical health of trans* and non-binary people."
Alistair Cowie says initatives like this are helping create a safe, inclusive and protective space for all individuals. "We’ve moved beyond the traditional cisnormative ‘male and female’ symbols used to label and identify bathrooms: labels like these are heteronormative and archaic, binary and seek to perpetuate issues of segregation, marginalisation and exclusivity on campus.”
We hope the bathrooms will be well received as a much needed facility and a welcome step in the right direction. Any future USU building projects will consider the needs of the queer community to ensure the inclusion of all gender bathrooms in planning and construction.
However, much more needs to be done to identify and publicise trans* and queer issues. Complacency for diversity is not enough: the USU can and will take actions to make the change on campus; to create and foster an environment that all students are proud of.
It’s not until we break down the barriers that we can start to create a safe environment for all.