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Editorial: Gender neutral washrooms are the future

We can only hope that more public washrooms in all scenarios start to be built in this manner
The Cowichan Valley school district has made a video to explain the “Washrooms for Everybody” concept at the new Cowichan Secondary School. (Screen shot)

We hope that one day it won’t be a big deal. No story will be written, no video produced. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

But in the meantime, it’s an encouraging step in the right direction to see the new Cowichan Secondary School go with gender neutral washrooms over the traditional binary male/female toilets.

We can only hope that more public washrooms in all scenarios start to be built in this manner, until we are no longer surprised by the idea.

There’s no particularly good reason that washrooms need to be segregated by gender. Not if we build them thoughtfully, with respect and privacy in mind, as is going to be done at the new Cowichan Secondary. And isn’t that something we’d all like to experience in a public restroom?

Traditional public washrooms of any size (that include more than one toilet) would expect men to endure little privacy as they use a bank of open urinals, with additional stalls open at the top and bottom on all sides. In a women’s bathroom one can expect to see lines of the same stalls.

Imagine now having some kind of medical condition and being subject to so little privacy, where everything you do in your stall echoes through the space — your private business amplified by the design specs.

And that’s to say nothing of how daunting it can be for those who are trans or non-binary just to simply be able to use the toilet when our very construction excludes rather than includes, forcing an either/or choice on which individuals will be publicly judged.

Women’s washrooms are also often the de facto family washroom, for people with younger children that need some supervision. And the seemingly inevitable line-ups to use the facilities are the stuff of comedy routines.

In the new washrooms in the works at the high school, individual toilets will be completely enclosed with floor to ceiling walls. About time! This takes care of everyone’s privacy concerns, and worries about potential embarrassment with different genders using the same toilets.

This new design shouldn’t take much adjustment, as this is how bathrooms in people’s houses are constructed — gender neutral spaces enclosed by walls for privacy.

And everyone can stand together at a communal sink.

A number of our Cowichan Valley communities could really use more public bathrooms for people to use when they are out and about. Should new washrooms be on the agenda, gender neutral with added privacy is the way to go.