By: Rachel Aiello
It’s not a question most people ask themselves every day – where do I go to the washroom?
But for Algonquin student Ben Heaps, life can’t be that easily categorized by a pink or blue door.
As a person who identifies as transgender, Heaps – a hospitality and tourism management student – has experienced firsthand the stress that can come with having to decide which washroom to use.
“You look at the bathrooms these days and you see ‘male’ and you see ‘female’. You see ‘boys’ and you see ‘girls’, ‘men’ and ‘women’,” said Heaps.
To accommodate as much of the spectrum as possible, Algonquin currently has nine unisex washrooms on campus that are considered safe spaces, but they have managed to go unacknowledged by many students on campus that could be using them.
“I honestly did not know we had any,” said Heaps. “If I knew where they were, I know I’d use them.”
Heaps’ positive response upon learning about the unisex washrooms on campus was echoed by fellow Queer Student Alliance members, who like Heaps, were unaware of their existence.
“I think gender-neutral bathrooms are much needed. Since not everyone conforms to one sex, for some people it’s difficult to find a bathroom. Especially those in the transgender community,” said Sabrina Sousa, a fitness and health promotion student. “I’m glad to hear Algonquin has some.”
For some students, the availability of these washrooms allows them to avoid the discomfort or ridicule that can arise from entering the space designated for the sex they were born into, when physically they identify as another gender.
“I am totally in favour of them,” said Kayla Miller, a graduate of recreation and leisure services. “I love those, as a somewhat androgynous-looking woman, they are anxiety reducers.”
David Glickman, a counselor with the colleges counseling services, thinks that more emphasis should be put on informing the campus about the facilities.
“Trans issues are coming more in the light it is something you hear being talked about more and so I think it’s important to know. The question, is how do you get the message to the people who need it?”
The washrooms are currently designated as accessible family bathrooms in an effort to be as inclusive as possible.
“They are multifunctional washrooms, so not just for students that are gender variant and don’t feel comfortable walking into the washroom of the sex that they were born into, but they’re also for people with disabilities and they’re for parents that want to change their child’s diaper,” said Glickman.
The sign on the door that indicates the purpose of these spaces depicts a wheelchair, a man, woman and child. Because of this, the access to these washrooms isn’t immediately clear to anyone outside of those classifications looking to use the washroom.
“It’s confusing for people because let’s say you were a trans person and you didn’t feel comfortable going into the washroom of the sex that you were born into, you might take a look at the sign and think ‘oh this is a mistake,’” said Glickman.
Because these facilities appeal to a wide demographic, finding an effective way to market them, or target a specific group has been a challenge for those spearheading the positive space initiative, said Glickman.
Currently, the campus’ positive space website, has outlined where the washrooms are located using clear descriptions to avoid sending students searching for them.
“C205F – located within the Learning Resource Centre (library). Not obviously a washroom, it has a wheelchair accessibility logo. Push the button to open the door.”
Or, “H207 – wheelchair accessible and locked. Go a few doors down and ask Marie Castenella at the front desk of H202 if you may borrow the key.”
However, finding this information online requires a clicking through the college’s counseling site, because they are classified as ‘family’ washrooms, unless someone searches specifically for that, “it’s not something most people would know to search for,” said Glickman.
Better promotion of the washrooms remains to be seen, but as campus has expanded, more spaces are being designated as unisex, wheelchair accessible and family facilities. The newest additions are located in the ACCE building and on all three floors of the Student Commons.