“For [Vanier], this is an assembly of freedom, of possibility for each and everyone to be able to express oneself without fear of criticism because of religion, birthplace, nationality, gender, or language”, Normand Bernier, Vanier’s Director General, states as he explains the importance of celebrating the opening of the new gender-neutral washrooms on campus. At the press conference on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016, Bernier elaborates on this accomplishment, noting that everybody can, at one point or another, fall victim of verbal or physical violence, and intimidation due merely to the fact that “we are what we are”. He quotes author Richard Bach, in saying, “You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way”. For Vanier students, the possibility to express their identities is greater now than it ever was before – all thanks to the fifteen single-stall washrooms that are now open and accessible to the college community at large.
Cameron Rankin, a transgender student who is a member of the working group supporting the project, spoke out during the grand opening: “As a trans person, I know that gender is complex and there is not always a clear division between what is considered male or female”, continuing on to emphasize that “navigating bathrooms can be a challenging thing for transgender and gender non-conforming people”. Rankin notes that “For many Trans people, using the bathroom can be very dangerous because there will always be people who do not understand. […] It is something that causes great anxiety to many people because we do not know what could happen”. Humiliation is a serious concern when a transgender student is questioned about their presence in a gender-specific restroom. The stress that accompanies the simple process of going to the washroom often causes Rankin to try “to use the most infrequently used bathrooms, no matter how far they are, and [to wait] to make sure that they are empty”. These fifteen new gender-neutral washrooms eliminate that need, and provide both students and staff with a safe place to go to avoid intimidation.
Many students and staff members have a positive perspective on the new washrooms, saying that they support the project that should, hopefully, lead to a more accepting society. The VCSA’s Vice President of External Affairs, Issa Ammari, shares his point of view with the Insider: “As a cisgender person, I worry about whether the last person who used the washroom left a mess. But for transgender or gender nonconforming people, it goes beyond that! By having gender neutral washrooms at Vanier, we give everyone full and safe participation in public life. At the end of the day, we are all human!”
Vanier student, Dennis Rompotinos, responds to the washroom inauguration: “It seems to me that the world we live in is binary: good and evil, right and wrong, male and female. However, the society we live in is too diverse and complex to classify human beings into pre-defined and confining categories. People who don’t usually fit into a mold that society has shaped for them are usually discriminated against and marginalized. I applaud Vanier for creating these gender-neutral bathrooms because it challenges this idea that someone can only be female or male. With these washrooms in place, everyone (especially transgender and gender non-conforming people) can feel safe, which is a right we all deserve. Now, nobody has to be worried every time they use the washroom and they can get peace of mind. I admire Vanier for taking the initiative to make positive changes and to create a more welcoming and accepting environment.”
The gender neutral washrooms reach far beyond the Trans community here at Vanier. In fact, they encourage and facilitate access to higher education for people whose mobility is limited, as they are all wheelchair accessible. These restrooms are also useful for those living with certain medical conditions, as they provide a private place to administer insulin injections, for example, or to accommodate those affected by intestinal problems. Having a room to oneself allows a person to simply take a minute and breathe, which, of course, is good for mental health issues such as anxiety and panic attacks.
The working group, along with the Open Door Network, and Student Services, will continue to promote the acceptance of transgender and gender nonconforming people, and hopes to eventually reach their goal of one gender neutral washroom per floor, in every building. These groups are also looking at the possibility of opening a gender neutral changing room in the Sports Complex. In the meantime, the locations of the fifteen new washrooms are indicated on the map of the school, which can be found on theVanier website.
Written By: Katherine Willcocks
Photo By: Peter Xhang
Originally Published: February 2016