Nanaimo school trustees urged to investigate gender-neutral washrooms
Nanaimo school officials are looking into whether it is feasible to include gender-neutral bathrooms in schools after hearing from a transgendered youth and a sexual health educator.
Kerri Isham, a certified sexual health educator who teaches in Nanaimo schools, and Jesse Jepson, a transgendered youth who graduated last year, presented the need for gender-neutral bathrooms in schools to trustees.
Jepson, who attended three different secondary schools in Nanaimo, said there were always issues about which washrooms he could use and he ended up having to use the washroom reserved for physically disabled students.
“It makes you look like more of an outcast when you’re using a washroom that you’re not supposed to use,” he said.
Ideally, Jepson would like to see more one-stall, private bathrooms in schools as opposed to multi-stall facilities, but if there is no money for building extra bathrooms, he said a gender-neutral sign could help clarify why someone is using a private bathroom.
Isham said people prefer a private space for numerous reasons and fear of bullying could stop some students from using the bathroom, which is detrimental to their health. Having a gender-neutral facility could keep students in school, she added.
“If you don’t feel that you belong, that your basic needs are being met, it’s probably not somewhere you’re going to want to be,” said Isham.
She said in schools that already have a one-stall, private bathroom for disabled students, a simple sign change to reflect that the facility is for anyone who wants to use it could go a long way and for schools without single-stall bathrooms, it is a question of how additional facilities can be incorporated into the school.
Her position is that it is a human rights issue because some students might not feel comfortable using multi-stall bathrooms.
Trustee Bill Bard, a member of the district’s advisory committee on sexual orientation, said the advisory committee brought the issue forward to trustees.
He is not sure how many single-stall bathrooms there are currently in the district, but the staff report will look into that as well as cost and if it is even feasible to include gender-neutral bathrooms in all schools.
Cost would have to be fairly minimal for him to support the move due to the district’s budget challenges, but there might be some things the district could do inexpensively if, for example, an area was being renovated anyway, added Bard.
“We’re doing a huge renovation at Wellington, surely there’s got to be room in there,” he said.