Is Concordia implementing gender-neutral washrooms fast enough?

Student and advocacy groups say Concordia does not offer enough gender-neutral bathrooms, whereas the university states they cannot move at a faster pace. In this article, both sides are explored. Photo by Sophie Dufresne

Student and advocacy groups say there’s not enough gender-neutral bathrooms, and the university states they cannot move faster

Non-binary students at Concordia seem to all agree on the fact that the university should offer more gender-neutral bathrooms and that they should be more accessible. Currently, they are very difficult to find—not to mention several buildings still do not have a single one.   

“Why don’t they take all existing bathrooms and make them gender-neutral?” — J

“Why don’t they take all existing bathrooms and make them gender-neutral?” J, a non-binary computer science student who wishes to stay anonymous, asked.“It’s not about cis people not having washrooms, it’s about everybody having a washroom.”

Facilities Management, a service under the Vice President Services that supports the development of facilities at both the Sir George William and Loyola Campuses, attempted to explain why they believe transforming gendered bathrooms is impossible.

Dominique Dumont, the department’s Director of Strategic Planning and Development, said that washrooms, being a part of the base of a building, cannot move around. For this reason, she said, washrooms cannot be changed. When they are built, they exist for the building’s entire life cycle. 

“Adapting old washrooms to make them gender-neutral is not just about changing the sign on the door,” she said. “There are safety concerns.”

When Facilities Management did research on inclusive bathrooms, they discovered that people feel more safe when these bathrooms are located in open areas where free circulation is possible rather than in dead ends. They also learned that people feel more comfortable when stall dividers in inclusive bathrooms go from floor to ceiling. 

“Inclusive washrooms are designed in a very special way so that everyone is comfortable use[ing] them,” she said. “It’s really a new concept.”

Dumont explained that the number of washrooms within a building is initially determined based on code requirements, which outline how many washrooms for men and how many washrooms for women are needed based on the building’s estimated population.

“In the building code, the concept of inclusive washrooms doesn’t even exist,” Dumont said. “And this might change because there is definitely an interest, [but] it will take time.”

The Applied Science Hub on the Loyola Campus, according to Dumont, only contains individual washrooms. She explained that this is more convenient than having multi-stalled bathrooms, since students do not have to choose between using an individual washroom and using a public washroom. 

However, not many other buildings at Loyola Campus have individual washrooms—and even some individual washrooms are still gendered.

On the SGW Campus, there are a few buildings with multi-stalled inclusive washrooms, including the sixth floor of the Hall Building and the basement of the Faubourg Building.

Dumont said that the complete renovation of the sixth floor of the Hall building gave Facilities Management the opportunity to implement inclusive washrooms and ask students how they could improve them. Their plan is to gradually implement more inclusive washrooms, but transforming a gendered washroom into one that is non-gendered is not really possible, according to Dumont.

This is why Facilities Management ensures that inclusive washrooms are implemented in open spaces, where Dumont says everyone should feel safe.

“We are very interested and excited about delivering inclusive washrooms but it is not possible to do it on a large scale.” — Dominique Dumont

“We are very interested and excited about delivering inclusive washrooms but it is not possible to do it on a large scale,” she said. “It’s a big challenge to convert the washrooms, and there’s also education around that that is important.”

Dumont added that Facilities Management wants to offer students different accessible options because it may not be easy for everyone to adapt to this change. Nonetheless, she thinks that people will gradually get used to and be more positive about inclusive washrooms.

Celeste Trianon, the Trans Rights Advocate for the Centre for Gender Advocacy, does not believe Concordia is doing enough concerning the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms.

“Concordia is starting to push a little more for respecting diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Trianon. “Gender-neutral bathrooms are, in a way, part of this idea of being inclusive. However, there are still many steps to go.”

They said that the washrooms on the sixth floor of the Hall building are a perfect example of what Concordia’s washrooms should look like moving forward. However, they noted that the student card readers found on several single-stall gender-neutral washrooms are a step back on behalf of the university in terms of accessibility.

“Concordia has been claiming that [the student card readers] are meant to increase security, but this excuse is probably frivolous at best because there are really no security concerns when it comes to gender-neutral bathrooms,” Trianon said.

“Concordia has been claiming that [the student card readers] are meant to increase security, but this excuse is probably frivolous at best because there are really no security concerns when it comes to gender-neutral bathrooms.” — Celeste Trianon

After all, what possible security risks could individual washrooms pose that multi-stalled washrooms do not? Dumont told The Link that the student card readers were installed by security following indesirable incidents and as a precautionary measure but did not elaborate further.   

Trianon added that Concordia should ensure that gender-neutral bathrooms can be found everywhere. They said that in the Guy-Maisonneuve (GM) building, there is only one individual gender-neutral bathroom—and it is located on the ground floor of the 11-story building. 

The security agent of the GM building confirmed that no other gender-neutral bathroom could be found in either the LB, the EV, or the GM buildings.

Dumont said they have inclusive washroom projects coming up for the ground floor of these buildings. But if a student has classes on the 11th floor of the GM building, will they be willing to go all the way to the ground floor to use the washroom—especially if they do not even know this bathroom exists? Many, if not most, students do not know where to find inclusive washrooms. 

“Even though there are gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, they are still very unequally distributed and that is really something that [should be] fixed,” said Trianon.

They emphasized the importance of urging Concordia to avoid waiting for renovations before adding more gender-neutral bathrooms. The need for them is very present, they said. Furthermore, they condemn the use of student-card readers for individual bathrooms, as they reduce the accessibility of the bathrooms. Trianon also mentioned that the university has done a poor job at letting the student population know where the gender-neutral washrooms are located. 

“One thing the Centre is really working on right now, especially on my end, would be to map out gender-neutral bathrooms and render this information as accessible as possible,” they said.

Elia Safaei, a non-binary history major, also believes that Concordia should implement more gender-neutral bathrooms—at least one on every floor—and make them more accessible so that people aren’t forced to choose between the gendered ones.

“People who don’t feel comfortable using [gender-neutral bathrooms] usually stay away from them,” they said, adding that since so many gendered bathrooms exist, cis folks are not forced to use gender-neutral bathrooms. Having these bathrooms around does not harm anyone.

And of course, when one discusses gender-neutral bathrooms, the topic of gender-neutral locker rooms is also one to consider.

Steve Sagdiyev Kalaydjian, a non-binary athlete for the Stingers women’s rugby team, said that while they enjoy sharing a locker room with their teammates, they understand that others do not. 

“I know of people that change in other places before a practice/event or wait to get home to use the washroom because being in gendered spaces triggers their dysphoria, so the option of having a gender-neutral locker room could potentially be very beneficial,” they said.

Dumont said they don’t have a lot of locker room projects going on currently, but inclusive locker rooms is something Facilities Management would recommend for future projects.

On the topic of Concordia residences, every bathroom in the Grey Nuns building is gender-neutral. However, out of the three residence buildings at the Loyola campus, two do not contain any gender-neutral bathrooms. Lauren Farley, the director of residence life, said that this had to do with infrastructure.

“At this time, there are no major renovation plans for [the two buildings that do not contain any gender-neutral bathrooms],” Farley said. “If you’re going to be planning a renovation, you’re gonna look at a lot of general needs of a space rather than just one specific need.”

She emphasized that the private rooms at Loyola as well as the Grey Nuns residence downtown accommodate well the students who are uncomfortable using gendered spaces. However, out of the four residence buildings at Concordia, the least expensive ones are the two buildings that do not offer any gender-neutral bathrooms.

Farley said that implementing gender-neutral bathrooms would be an important consideration if the buildings were to undergo renovations but until then, there is very little she feels that residence life staff can do. 

In short, Concordia seems to believe they are doing their best to accommodate student needs; however, students and advocacy groups agree that the university is not doing enough. Claims on behalf of facilities experts that gendered bathrooms cannot easily be converted into gender-neutral ones are rejected by several individuals who do not want to wait for the university to renovate buildings before seeing an equal distribution of accessible washrooms throughout both campuses. In fact, how is it that the same conversations have been happening since 2016?