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Campaign Seeks Gender-Neutral Washrooms

Oxford County businesses and organizations are being encouraged to make their space a safe one for members of the transgendered community by switching to gender-neutral washrooms.

The Rainbow Coalition, a group made up of people from Oxford County Public Health, the Oxford County Community Health Centre, and CMHA Oxford, launched “The Bathroom Project” earlier this week. Their goal is to get as many businesses and service organizations within the county to stop labeling their washrooms as men’s or women’s, and instead make them accessible for all.

“We’ve got information packages that we are handing out that include an explanation why gender-neutral bathrooms are important, some of the benefits of having gender-neutral bathrooms, and some tips and strategies to establish them within their organization,” said Gayle Milne, chairperson of the Rainbow Coalition and public health nurse at Oxford County Public Health. “There is some signage in those packages that will go on the outside of participating businesses so that if somebody was walking past they would see in the window a sign that indicated it is a safe place to go in and use the bathroom if they needed to do so.”

Transgendered individuals can feel uncomfortable and have their safety put at risk when they are forced to use washrooms labelled exclusively as male or female, according to Milne.

“I remember several years ago speaking to a youth, who talked about going to school and not going to the bathroom all day long because there was no safe place except for their own home to go back to,” said Milne. “So they would go to school in the morning and wait until the evening to go back home to use the bathroom. That’s a fairly consistent message when you talk to transgendered people.”

So far, the feedback from businesses and organizations has been positive, with several taking up the cause. Habitual Chocolate switched to gender-neutral bathrooms last month, posting a photo of their new “all-gender washroom” signs on Facebook. The chocolate shop has also begun hosting a drop in safe zone on the last Wednesday of each month for those in the LGBTQ community to openly discuss their journey.

Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese has had gender-neutral washrooms since opening its doors nearly six years ago.

“Creating gender-neutral bathrooms wasn’t just a priority for making our staff feel comfortable, but also the community at large,” said Colleen Bator of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese. “Being cognizant that our customer base is rich in diversity of all kinds, it is important to create spaces that are accessible and help them to feel safe and even celebrated.”

The Rainbow Coalition is using those two businesses in particular as role models for other businesses that may be interested in changing their washrooms. They are encouraging businesses to reach out to Gunn’s Hill and Habitual Chocolate to speak business owner-to-business owner about the experience of changing to gender-neutral washrooms, Milne said.

To show its support for The Bathroom Project, Oxford County Pride will include a “where to go” page on its website where businesses and organizations can advertise their gender-neutral washrooms to the transgendered community.

Information packages about The Bathroom Project are available by calling the health unit at 519-539-9800 ext. 3451.