MUN introduces gender inclusive washrooms

Students’ Union praises move, says province’s only university is setting an example for other public buildings and spaces in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Memorial University announced Friday that it has introduced gender-inclusive washrooms on its St. John’s campus.

The move to be more inclusive of washroom users by offering an alternative to washrooms designated only for people who identify as male or female came after “years of work by student activists,” Brittany Byrnes, Director of Campaigns with the MUN Students’ Union, said in a statement issued to media on Friday. “We’re pleased the university has come on board and has taken this much-needed move forward in providing an inclusive and welcoming space for students, employees and the general public.”

According to the MUNSU news release, the first gender-inclusive washroom signs went up this week in the University Centre and in the coming weeks designations of single-stall washrooms across campus will follow.

“Gender-inclusive washrooms acknowledge the limitations of traditional washrooms segregated along a narrow male-female binary,” the release continues, “in a world that’s increasingly conscious of the variety of gender identities and gender expressions and the need to cultivate an inclusive and supportive environment for all genders, especially in public buildings and institutions.”

“We’re excited for the full implementation of this initiative in the weeks ahead,” said Chris Mallay, MUNSU’s LGBT student representative. “It’s great to see this finally come about, especially now during Trans Week of Awareness and Action. It’s a matter of basic human rights.”

 It’s a matter of basic human rights. — Chris Mallay, MUNSU

MUNSU, LBGT-MUN, the Trans Needs Committee and other student advocacy groups have been lobbying the university on the issue for several years, and “after extensive consultations MUNSU put forward a proposal based on input from a range of campus stakeholders as well as research from other post-secondary institutions across the country,” the release reads. “Although there are currently no universally accepted standards or building codes that acknowledge gender inclusive spaces, initiatives like this help pave the way for other public institutions.”

MUN’s decision follows the introduction of a gender inclusive washroom at its Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook in 2013 and is just the latest in an ongoing series of efforts events moving the province toward gender equality.

In 2013 gender was added to the province’s Human Rights Code as a prohibited ground for discrimination.

In July transgender activist Kyra Rees and her lawyer were successful in pressuring the government to commit to amend the Vital Statistics Act to allow people who identify as a gender that does not correspond to their sex can change the denotation on their government-issued I.D., so long as they identify as either male or female.

Outside the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador that day, St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers told reporters the Vital Statistics Act victory was only the tip of the iceberg, and that major improvements to the province’s health care system and laws are needed to accommodate transgender people.

“In order to get a diagnosis and assessment…to get medical treatment is not done here in the province,” she said. “Folks are required to go out of province for these kinds of services. That’s not equal access to health care, so [now] we have that springboard that gives us that right to go after other services, policies and legislation that affects trans folks.”

Three days later, on July 25, about 75 members and allies of the trans community marched through the streets of downtown St. John’s in the city’s first-ever collectively-organized Trans March.

Alix Snow, a Grade 12 student who participated in the march, told The Independent there are multiple gender neutral washrooms at Holy Heart high school in St. John’s, and that “open washrooms…homelessness, discrimination in education and workplaces” are topics the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance have identified as being top priorities for LGBTQ and trans people in the province.

Byrnes said she would like to see “every public building and space in this province acknowledge gender diversity and offer gender inclusive washrooms and support.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this story did not mention that MUN’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook introduced a gender inclusive washroom in 2013. This fact has since been included.

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