Signage opens door to ‘inclusive’ washrooms

Western is encouraging a shift in how the campus community thinks about washroom facilities with a new poster campaign, launched this week, to foster safe spaces and inclusivity.

“We’re calling this an ‘inclusive’ washroom poster campaign. We are trying to move away from language of ‘gender-neutral’ or ‘all-gender’ because some people might not identify with a gender,” said Larissa Bartlett, Director of Equity & Human Rights Services at Western.

A few years ago, the plan on campus was to convert all single-user washrooms to be without a gender designation, she explained. For all intents and purposes, a single-user washroom would just be designated as a washroom, without gendered signage, that was accessible and marked with an accessibility symbol. There are a number of these facilities across campus already, in addition to gender-marked facilities, Bartlett added, and this has been the state of things for some time.

“A couple of years ago, we had a request that we start to look at some signage – informational signage discouraging people from making inappropriate comments or telling someone they’re in the wrong washroom, because of all the reasons you can think of. It can be harmful, threatening, discriminatory and scary for someone to be told, ‘You don’t belong here.’ So, we started working on a poster and it evolved to a bigger project, which is where we are at now,” she noted.

As of this week, 50 framed posters have been placed near washroom facility doors across campus in buildings like the University Community Centre (UCC), Sommerville House, Middlesex College and the D.B. Weldon Library (with signage to come in housing facilities and other buildings) stating, “Western respects everyone’s right to choose a washroom appropriate for them. Trust the person using this space belongs here.”

“The posters are paired and they don’t replace the gender marking on multi-user washrooms; they’re just a sign that basically (encourages) respect and trust,” Bartlett said.

“We worked together as a group – Equity, the University Students’ Council (USC), the Society of Graduate Students, Pride Western, the Queer Caucus and Western community members. What we’re encouraging is a shift in how people think about washrooms, rather than it being about the person who uses the washroom, shifting the perspective to the service it provides.”

Inclusive washrooms themselves are broad, Bartlett continued. Things like accessibility and family care are often considered in the umbrella of inclusive language. But this particular poster project “focuses on the human rights ground of gender identity and gender expression,” she added.

“It’s an equity and safety issue because people, whether they are queer, trans or non-binary, are sometimes subjected to overt or covert emotional or physical harassing behaviours when they enter or exit the gender-segregated washrooms,” Bartlett continued.

“We are reminding people that if they are uncomfortable with using a washroom with someone else, we do have single-user washrooms available. So, instead of directing a person you don’t think fits to be in this washroom, go to the single-user washroom if you feel uncomfortable.”

Going forward, Equity Services has suggested there is a need to look at Western policies and procedures as they relate to the human rights ground of gender identity and expression, she added. That means not just looking at creating inclusive spaces, but considering how we do things on campus and if what we do is inclusive in everything from language to approach to procedures.

Housing & Ancillary Services is also launching ‘mixed-gender’ housing, Bartlett noted, in which students will have to self-identify and indicate if they wish to be placed with someone whose gender identity is the same. The USC is looking at making one of its washrooms in the UCC an ‘all-gender’ washroom, though the language around what that washroom will be called is still being discussed.

“One of the questions about the poster campaign may be, ‘Are these now all-gender or multi-user washrooms?’ This is not that – yet. These posters are not meant to make what is effectively a ‘women’s washroom’ to be all-gender. They’re meant to support the safe environment of that washroom,” Bartlett explained.

Western currently has one all-gender washroom in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies/Nursing Building.