Gender neutral bathrooms and facilities are being implemented in several University buildings as part of the next stage of the University’s redevelopment plans.
Gender-neutral toilets and changing facilities will be included as part of the redevelopment of the sports centre. Additionally, there is also an intention to provide gender neutral toilets in the Library on level one, the lower ground floor of the building which is currently used for staff accommodation and storage.
A University spokesperson confirmed that, “As part of any refurbishment project or new build, gender-neutral toilets have been mainstreamed into development plans.”
The toilets will be fully-enclosed individual cubicles which contain their own sinks. In the Library, gender- specific facilities will be retained on the other three levels of the building, with the intention being to create “an element of choice” for library users.
The spokesperson also said, “All of the existing toilet facilities on levels two, three and four of the Library will be increased in size and substantially refurbished as the University recognises that current provision is inadequate.”
Explaining the background behind the decision, the spokesperson said, “As part of an action by the University Gender Equality & Athena SWAN Committee, a campaign began in LGBT History Month (February 2016) for an increase in gender-neutral toilet provision as part of increased support for trans students.”
Saints LGBT+, the Students Association’s social and welfare group for members of the LGBT+ community, were also involved in lobbying for the provision of gender neutral facilities.
As early as 2013, David Norris, the then Association LGBT+ Officer had declared the group’s support for the provision, with a motion being passed that year in the Student Representative Council in support of advocating for and providing gender neutral facilities.
Sigrid Jørgensen, current Association Chair and Association LGBT+ Officer from 2015-2016, has worked with the University in the past year to try and ensure that gender neutral bathrooms were included as part of the redevelopment plan.
Speaking to The Saint, Ms Jørgensen explained why she feels that the new facilities represent a positive development for St Andrews students.
“I think they’re necessary because [they are] a space where people who are either gender-fluid, transgender, or even in drag, can feel comfortable to go and just have a space where they feel comfortable with who they are,” she said.
Continuing, Ms Jørgensen added, “Having to pick between gendered bathrooms is one of the highest points of stress in a lot of transgender people’s lives.”
“If we can do anything to decrease the amount of anxiety that transgender, or gender-fluid people are under on a daily basis, I think that’s what we need to do and I think that’s what Saints LGBT+ should be striving to do.”
On whether she felt the University had been co-operative enough during the process, Ms Jørgensen simply said, “They’ve definitely been willing to listen.”
Ms Jørgensen also said that the Association was doing a “good job” of helping to create a “safe space” for students, citing both the new gender neutral facilities and the motion that was passed earlier in the year to strengthen the Association’s Zero Tolerance policy for abuse and bullying.
“We’re doing a lot more than most unions and most universities are doing across the country. I think that just shows how much people are listening to what students are saying and what students feel uncomfortable with,” she added.
Ms Jørgensen also said that if students did not feel that Saints LGBT+ or the Association in general were adequately addressing their concerns, that she and other officers in the Association were always open to be contacted to discuss the issue.
Current Association LGBT+ Officer, Lewis Wood, also spoke to The Saint about the new facilities.
“The thing is with [the addition of] gender neutral bathrooms is that it’s such a tiny thing, it’s such a small detail, and it’s so easily achievable, but it will make the Union a much safer space for the people this would apply to,” he said.
Mr Wood continued, “It’s something that everyone takes for granted, but when it comes down to it, feeling like your gender is being institutionally rejected is very difficult.
“It makes you question your gender and how accepted and comfortable you can be in that environment.”
Mr Wood also expressed his pride in both the University and the Union for going forward with this new development, arguing that it shows St Andrews is following the trend of all “forward-thinking institutions,” by introducing the new facilities. However, Mr Wood went on to say that he suspects that there may be an initial “backlash” to the proposal “from people who don’t quite understand,” but said that this just emphasised the importance of publicity and education on LGBT+ issues along with the new facilities.
Tyler Anderson, Saint LGBT+’s newly elected Sexualities and Gender officer, also praised the new development, saying, “Providing gender neutral bathrooms (or, as I prefer to see them, just bathrooms) really makes things easier for everyone. Trans and gender non-conforming people should not be forced to use bathrooms that correspond to their assigned gender if it makes them feel uncomfortable.
“However, even binary trans people may feel uncomfortable using bathrooms that correspond to their identified gender if they fear that they will be made to feel obtrusive when doing so.
“Bathrooms are just bathrooms and people should not feel like they have to define their identities to themselves and to other people every time they wish to use one.
“It is not fair to anyone involved to force people who feel uncomfortable in gendered bathrooms to use accessible bathrooms, which are supposed to serve another purpose. Gendered bathrooms can still exist, but they cannot be the only option.”
Ms Anderson also told The Saint what she felt still needs to be done to create a safe environment for trans and other LGBT+ students in St Andrews: “Pronouns are an issue. Misgendering trans and gender non-conforming people (whether accidental or not) invalidates an aspect of their identity, an aspect that they have made the active choice to uphold despite the difficulties that this often entails. More than this, misgendering can be dangerous. ‘Outing’ trans people who may otherwise have been “passing” as their preferred gender to other onlookers can attract unwanted attention and, sometimes, harassment” she said.
She continued: “This is not something anybody should have to experience, especially when moving through university. The fix is simple: if you do not think that it is appropriate to ask a person what pronouns they prefer, use “they/them/theirs” or their name if you know it. You are far less likely to cause offence.”
Joe Tantillo, the Students’ Association’s Director of Representation, whose remit includes overseeing student wellbeing and advocating for equal opportunities for LGBT+ students, also played a key role in ensuring that gender neutral facilities were included as part of University redevelopment.
“I think it’s something brilliant we can do for our students who don’t identify with a specific gender or who identify as transgender. We have a growing number of openly trans students, so I think our ability to offer them gender neutral bathrooms is not only a necessity but also just the right thing to do,” he said.
Mr Tantillo, also explained how, despite some “misunderstanding” from all parties involved, the University had been “quite open” to the proposals and had “certainly not hindered progress in any major ways.”
Mr Tantillo also said that in an “ideal world” there would be such facilities in every University building and hall, but that the age of some of the University’s buildings makes this an expensive dream to pursue.
However, he said that he hoped that the University would reach the stage of universal gender-neutral facilities “within no more than five, ten, years’ time.”
Robert Aston, the Association Equal Opportunities Officer, expressed the Equal Opportunities committee’s approval of the University’s decision saying, “The Equal Opportunities Committee is glad that the University is following many other forward-thinking institutions in implementing the policy for gender neutral (or all gender) bathrooms.
“This will mean that the facilities are fully accessible for all members of the student body.
“What may initially seem like a small issue is in fact a legitimate cause of potential distress for some people, over something as basic and routine as visiting the bathroom.”