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NWSS set to pilot gender-neutral universal washrooms

Two existing gendered facilities will be converted for universal use this fall.
Washroom signs
Proposed signage for the gender-neutral washrooms at NWSS.

New Westminster Secondary School will be converting two existing gendered washrooms to universal facilities in a pilot project this fall.

The project is being spearheaded by School District 40’s SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) team.

Kai Smith, the district’s SOGI lead, told trustees at the May 10 board meeting that the provision of safe, non-gendered washrooms was among the concerns raised by students through work with the school’s GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance).

Smith cited recent Ipsos polling data showing 4% of youth identify as transgender, non-binary or not male or female, which would amount to about 80 students at NWSS. Plus, they said, a recent consultant’s report in the district showed more than 28% of students identify as LGBTQ2S+ — or more than 560 students at the high school.

“These are students who are trying to figure out if they have a place, if they’re going to be loved or if they’re going to be accepted,” Smith said. “They’re trying to wrestle with this while we’re trying to teach them the numerators and the denominators and the history and the science and everything else.”

Providing safe washroom spaces is just one way the district can help meet its goals of inclusivity and equity, Miriam Schellenberg, an NWSS vice-principal and the school’s SOGI lead, told trustees.

The plan will convert two existing washrooms, one male and one female, located across from the foods room on the main floor of the high school.

Gender-neutral washroom design will focus on privacy, security

In July and August, the washrooms will be renovated to become gender-neutral — including the provision of taller stall doors for greater privacy, walls to enclose the urinals in the existing male washroom, the addition of menstrual products dispensers and wall mounts for educational information about washroom use.

The existing gendered, multi-stall washrooms in the physical education area will remain gendered, Schellenberg said, as will washrooms on the second and third floors.

Maureen McRae-Stanger, SD40 director of instruction, said the newly designed universal washrooms will have an easy access entranceway with a clear view of the shared spaces around the sinks so staff can supervise the washrooms more closely.

And she stressed that, even when the district continues with its plan to offer universal multi-stall washrooms on upper floors of the school, gendered washrooms will still exist.

“Students will always have the option of using either the universal washroom, the single-stall universal washroom on various floors or the gendered washrooms,” she said.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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