North Vancouver schools get first gender-neutral washroom

In a first for North Vancouver schools, Seycove secondary has opened a gender-neutral washroom.

The move is a step in the right direction and recognition that not every student feels welcome in the binary male- or female-designated washrooms, according to Brian Wilson, president of Seycove’s Queer Straight Alliance Club, which lobbied the school administration for the washroom.

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High school is already a stressful time for kids who are coming to grips with their identity, Wilson said, and what should be a place of relief is often a source of undue stress –  for some more than others.

“Everybody has the right to a safe space to do such a humanly thing, like go to the washroom, regardless of whether you’re male, female, somewhere in between, gay, straight, bi. You just want to be comfortable,” Wilson said. “(They) don’t always feel welcome in their gender-assigned bathroom and so there has been kind of an outcry for spaces for everyone – for people who aren’t in the strict boxes in which society has kind of put us.”

Although it’s just one stall in a handicapped washroom, it will have a sign on the door declaring that it may be used by anyone “regardless of their gender identity or expression,” sending an important message to the school, said Andrea Yeo, the QSA’s teacher-sponsor.

“We’re more interested and happy about the fact we have the signage because, while we think having the space is definitely a big part of it, having the signage that says we are an inclusive school that recognizes the need for gender-neutral bathroom is almost as important,” she said.

For past members of the QSA who have since graduated, using the gender-designated bathrooms was a struggle, Yeo said.

Wilson and his fellow club members were inspired by seeing the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation adopt gender-neutral facilities, and the Vancouver School Board’s transgender policy, which allows students to choose which washrooms they are most comfortable in.

Wilson said Seycove is known for being a very open and tight-knit school and so he expects the washroom will be greeted warmly by the student body.

“We’re a very forward-thinking community as a whole,” he said.

When it comes to the notion that gender is a spectrum with many variants, the rest of society still has some catching up to do, Yeo said.

The Vancouver School Board’s policy provoked an angry response from a group of parents who worried it would lead to harassment, or the school district co-opting kids’ sexuality.

“Today’s generation is aware of this but today’s adults are not. Whether we’re adults or whether we’re students, we both need to be on board with the way our kids are. Our kids get it. Our kids aren’t, for the most part, biased or discriminating. It’s the adults that are still discriminating,” she said.

“We need to recognize that it is a real phenomenon that somebody could actually be born in the wrong body where their brain and their genitalia don’t match up, and that it’s not a choice.”

To reflect that, more washrooms in public buildings should be gender neutral and designed from the ground up to accommodate everyone, Yeo said.

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