The first I ever heard of transgender washrooms was during my last year of college. A group of students had started a campaign to stop the construction of transgender washrooms on college property. Their logic: if trans women were to use the same washroom as cis women, the cis women might be put into a dangerous situation, regardless of what gender they choose to identify as. Also, they argued that trans women were actually men, and that no men should be allowed in women’s public washrooms. Period.
To my surprise, the college, without any further research into the issue conceded to the protesting students demands, and made a public statement that further renovations into the restroom facilities would be suspended. This resulted in a counter protest by the more activist type students of the college dubbed the “Free to Pee” movement which attempted to raise awareness about trans washrooms among other issues. The torch had been lit and from that moment on my interest in the Trans Movement was set.
The main debate that I can figure is how do we sensitively accommodate women who have been sexually assaulted by men, and more so, assaulted in public washrooms, as well as trans women who would feel equally uncomfortable having to use a gender-specified male washroom at the same time? Society cannot demand that those who have experienced trauma, such as sexual assualt, to simply get over it and move on. The healing process in trauma cases can span decades and the trauma can easily be retriggered if one finds themselves in a similar scenario or environment. That said, the trauma caused by ostracizing someone from what is culturally considered a basic human right, like access to public washrooms has also been proven extremely damaging. Suicide rates among trans people is more than 25 times the rate of the general population.
Something that usually isn’t considered is the actual design of the washrooms, which are commonly located in a basement or an area with low foot traffic, with only one point of entry or exit. Many are lacking in any frequent security checks by campus.
The passing of Bill C-279 this past February, which advocates say is essential to protect transgendered Canadians from discrimination, was a short-lived victory. Amendments added to the bill might actually work towards barring transgender people from public washrooms. The bill is currently stuck in the senate, without any set date for reconsideration.
The direction these issues go and the level of opposition our trans community must endure to experience what the majority of us take for granted will be a dominate characteristic of our culture.
Will we rise to the challenge of complete civil rights for all? Or will we allow for the discrimination and intolerance of the last century to be our defining national mood?