Recently, the Students’ Union Council held a vote for the creation of gender neutral toilets on campus, but the notion failed to achieve a sufficient majority, marginalising students who do not identify as either male or female. A referendum is now going out to all UoN students, and votes will be counted on Friday 17th March. Impact Features spoke to the campaigner Gabriel Jackson to find out why the referendum is so important, and how it affects every student.

So, what’s your campaign about?

“This week we’ve been campaigning for gender neutral toilets. We didn’t get the majority we needed at the Union Council by one vote, so now it’s up to university students to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum.”

Why do you think gender neutral toilets were voted against by the Union Council?

“I think we have been misunderstood. A lot of our campaign is about myth-busting: we do want gender neutral toilets, but we don’t want to get rid of gendered toilets.

“When there’s more than one of each gendered facility on a floor of a building, for example, two female toilets and two male toilets, then what’s stopping one of them being converted into a gender neutral toilet?  The conversion causes worries for certain people because they’re concerned about cost, which is really just relabelling.”

Why do you think it would be necessary to keep gender specific toilets should there be neutral facilities?

“Especially in the case of female toilets, women want spaces where they can feel safe, and we understand the role that gendered toilets play in ensuring the privacy and comfort of the students who do prefer to use those.

“It’s also a urinal issue. Men who use urinals don’t necessarily want women coming in, and women don’t necessarily want men in there.

“Our campaign is not about getting rid of gendered facilities, it’s about introducing a gender neutral option so that there are appropriate facilities available for everyone.”

Do you believe that the introduction of more gender neutral facilities would be beneficial to all students?

“It’s not just a niche issue; it’s not just a trans thing, or a non-binary thing. People look at our campaign and think ‘that’s not about me’, but it effects everyone. It is very close to my heart, as someone who has been assaulted in gendered bathrooms even in university, but it’s important for people to know that it’s not just about the LGBTQ+ community.”

So who else does it affect?

“If there are more gender neutral toilets, then there are more facilities for everyone to use. This is a big step for disabled students as well, because members of staff often direct transgender students to disabled facilities in order to avoid harassment in gendered spaces. That’s incredibly uncomfortable for disabled students because there aren’t many of those facilities. It’s not fair to take resources away from one disadvantaged group to put a band aid over a problem for another.

“Imagine that you were visiting with a child who is a different gender to you. Imagine your child is saying ‘I want to go in the men’s toilets’, but you don’t want to send him in there alone. If there’s a gender neutral space, neither of you have to experience any discomfort.

“The same is for students who don’t identify, or who don’t present themselves in a way that is typically masculine or feminine. This would offer an appropriate space for transgender students who are trying to avoid harassment. People always believe that harassment doesn’t occur at university, but that’s just not true.”

Who has shown support?

“We’ve been endorsed by pretty much everyone running for SU officer roles at the moment. Many groups have expressed support on our motion page, as well as groups within the university.”

Who can vote?

“You can vote regardless of your intersections, regardless of how you identify, regardless of how comfortable you are with the current facilities. The referendum is open to all students.”

On the whole, do you believe your campaign experiences a lot of opposition?

“Most people hear about it and say, ‘you know what this is? Common sense.’ The University should be making an effort to cater for every member of its community. Right now it isn’t. And that’s a problem, that’s something we need to change.”

“We desperately need ‘yes’ votes.”

You can vote in the referendum at www.studentleaderelections.co.uk

Sofia Knowles

Featured Image: ‘Universal gender symbol 2’, by Lee (License)

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2 Comments

  1. Michelle
    March 16, 2017 at 10:16 — Reply

    I would be interested in a response to the following: surely if you’re creating a specific space to avoid harassment that could actually be a double-edged sword, in that it designates a space (especially if gender neutral) that could actually be used by those who are harassers to even more easily target individuals who identify as LGBTQ etc. as there would then be a specific space for them – in a usual public bathroom it is likely harder as there’s greater footfall – so in actual fact might you actually be increasing the opportunities for malicious incidents by assigning specific toilets to specific minority groups through the keeping of gendered toilets, but the creation of neutral ones?

    • Robin
      March 20, 2017 at 00:15 — Reply

      So, Michelle you’re arguing that those asking for these facilities don’t really want them, that they’re somehow misguided? I suggest you spend less time worrying about concerns made up in your head on their behalf and instead put yourself in their shoes for a little while instead.

      Or maybe if everyone just used these non-gendered bathrooms that you’re fearful of [on their behalf] then they’d be busy all the time and your fears wouldn’t be realised once everyone visiting the bathrooms came to realise that they’re just places for people to go to the toilet and not potential locations for harassment.

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