“Shit-in” advocates for gender-inclusive washrooms

Students staged their protest on the 3000 level of the AQ last Wednesday. - Brandon Hillier

SFU community members of all genders mobilized inside a Burnaby campus men’s washroom last Wednesday to advocate for gender-neutral washrooms on campus.

The event, humorously called the “Shit-in,” was a sit-in protest during which students took a stand for inclusivity of transgender students and faculty at SFU.

The group that organized the event, the Gender Inclusive Washroom Committee, argues that the gender binary of public washrooms makes them uncomfortable and unsafe environments for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

The Shit-in lasted from 1 p.m. to about 3:15 p.m. Student advocates demonstrated in the southern hallway of the 3000 level of the AQ outside the washroom, where they sat on chairs with their pants around their ankles, holding signs with messages such as, “Say no to gender policing,” and “Check your potty privilege.”

Several staff and students joined the protest, including gender, sexuality, and women’s studies lecturer and critic-in-residence for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, Lucas Crawford.

Recent research supports the protesters’ concerns that gender-segregated washrooms are in fact dangerous. A 2013 study produced by the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles showed that 70 per cent of transgender people surveyed in the Washington, DC area faced harassment or assault, or were even denied entrance to washrooms of their identified gender.

Study author Jody Herman wrote, “The concept of two separate and opposing genders — men and women — is entrenched in our society and reflected in our built environment.” In essence, the socially learned concept of the gender binary is reflected in how our public washrooms are organized.

Signage at the Shit-in conveyed this with a more playful tone, declaring that people have been “potty trained.”

Theron Meyer, a third year gender studies student who helped organize the event, explained, “[The Shit-in is] supposed to raise awareness among students about trans safety and their accessibility when it comes to accessing washrooms. [It is] also [meant] to create a kind of dialogue between university officials and students, a dialogue between students.”

The group is also circulating a petition, addressed to the university administration, to make the change to SFU washrooms.

Meyer expressed their hopes for the event: “What I hope to happen today is just to do our thing and to see some more signatures on the petition.”

SFU’s associate VP student services, Tim Rahilly, issued a statement on behalf of the administration leading up to the event. It reads, “the University has taken steps to provide gender-neutral spaces throughout our three campuses in Burnaby, Vancouver, [and] Surrey.”

Rahilly went on to say that no formal complaint has been made to SFU’s Human Rights and Equity Office regarding gender-neutral washrooms, but the university is working alongside the Simon Fraser Student Society to change the policy to allow preferred names on student IDs.

Meyer told The Peak that the response they had received from the university so far had been “very defensive,” as it states that the school has “already met all these plans and all these changes in terms of trans inclusion.” The university also cited the five single-person gender inclusive washrooms that have already been established in the AQ.

“My response is that it’s not good enough,” Meyer stated.

“I want the university to know that we’re not angry, we’re just dissatisfied. We’re not trying to shame or vilify them, but we want the change.”