Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Explain the importance of gender neutral washrooms
  2. Have a process for working with youth, volunteers, guests and staff to understand the importance of gender neutral washrooms

The youth who participated in our focus groups were very consistent across communities that there is a need to have gender neutral washrooms in our spaces. Click here for a good article about why this is important. Throughout this Toolkit we have discussed how washrooms are a source of stress for trans* and gender non-confirming individuals. In the scenario we are going to explore this in more detail.

“The architectural design and gendered codes of conduct mandated in the lavatory all support the illusion that here are two binary genders – male and female – both of which are visible, identifiable, and natural” (Cavenagh: 52). Cavenagh further points out that “when public space is rigidly gendered, access will be an issue for those who do not conform to the norms upon which sexual difference is consolidated” (53).

It is important that we hear from trans* and gender non-conforming individuals about their experiences of accessing public washrooms. The following are quotes from Dr. Sheila Cavenagh’s text “Queering Bathrooms: gender, sexuality, and the hygienic imagination”:

Rohan “The majority of people in [the women’s bathroom] …either mistake me for a man or are deeply troubled by the presence of a masculine person in the women’s washroom … it’s always a problem. Always … I get strange looks, comments … being interrogated about whether or not I should be in there … stared at a lot, spoken about as if I am not there …” (55).

Jay “You work so hard to have your gender perceived in a certain way and it’s pretty important to have your gender [perceived] in a certain way and when you have to go into a bathroom … that’s all thrown into doubt. I think that’s pretty threatening to yourself and your soul” (59).

Rachel “I was in the [women’s] bathroom at [a bar] … in New York City, this girl … kind of looked at me and she goes ‘Am I in the wrong place?’ I was like ‘Neither of us is in the wrong place.’ I … grabbed at my chest and was, like, ‘No, no we’re all good’ … if they can notice breasts, then they’re okay” (66).

KJ “One transgender woman went to the movies with her sister, she was using the female bathroom. And someone, a woman, inside the bathroom saw her and said, ‘This is a man. Call security.’ Security came in and they harassed her. And she told them, ‘I am transgender, you know, this is the right bathroom [for me],’ and they [security] made a big scene” (70).

Take a moment and consider the following scenarios. In your ponderings think about what information you need (policies, processes, training, etc.) to be able to address the issue.

Example A — A youth comes rushing into the staff space and claims there is a man in the women’s washroom. What do you do?

Example B — A colleague comes rushing into the staff space and claims there is a man in the women’s washroom. What do you do?

Questions About Your Responses

  1. Is there a difference in your response? Why or why not?
  2. What actions can you and your organization take to prevent these examples from happening?

Additional Thoughts

It is important that your organization be proactive, if it is not already. It is recommended that you implement an inclusive spaces policy. You will find examples in the Tools section. It also helpful to have signage around your facility and especially in washrooms that indicate this is an inclusive space. Please see the Tools section for examples.


Cavanagh, S. (2010). Queering bathrooms gender, sexuality, and the hygienic imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Dalhousie University. (n.d.). Gender‑Neutral Washrooms. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.dal.ca/campus_life/student_services/health-and-wellness/lgbtq/gender-neutral-washrooms.html

Rode, I. (2013, December 26). No More Women’s Rooms: Why Bathrooms Should All Be Gender-Neutral. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2013/12/26/gender_neutral_bathrooms_all_bathrooms_should_be_open_to_all_users.html

Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. (n.d.). Gender Inclusive Washrooms. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://sfuo.ca/pride/accessibility/gender-inclusive-washrooms/
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