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Column: The time is now for gender-neutral bathrooms

'At home, we all use the same toilet. Why is it different in public?': Sherlock.
Tracy Sherlock crop
Tracy Sherlock writes about education, parenting and social issues in her columns at the Richmond News.

Have you noticed that some restaurants now have gender neutral bathrooms? I think it’s the greatest thing.

You will mainly notice it in public places that have single bathrooms, rather than a row of toilet stalls with an open section for sinks. Each single washroom is available for everyone, of any gender, instead of labelling them specifically for men or for women.

I love this innovation, because not only does it make going to the bathroom less fraught for anyone who is not cisgender, it also eliminates a gender imbalance that has long existed in bathrooms. This may seem like a frivolous topic for an opinion column, but sexism is an age-old social problem and it’s growing in importance as awareness of gender differences grows.

As a woman, I cannot tell you how many hours of my life have been spent waiting in line for the toilet, in comparison to the average man, but I know it’s a lot. I’ve never seen a lineup for the gents, but a lineup for the ladies is commonplace.

Anyone who has been to a concert at a big arena will know the lineup for the women’s washroom is usually a mile long, while the lineup for the men’s washroom is usually non-existent. That happens when there are singular bathrooms designated by gender as well, and it’s not fair. Women take longer to urinate; they need more bathrooms to compensate. While I realize not everyone would be comfortable if those large multi-toilet washrooms were suddenly gender neutral, I do suggest that large arenas designate at least two womens’ washrooms per every mens’ washroom, to equalize the lineups a bit.

How many times have I been walking on Richmond’s dyke and have to use the public washroom near Terra Nova Park? Many dozens. How many times is there a lineup for the women’s washroom, which is on the left? Nearly every time. How many times is there a lineup for the men’s, which is identical, but located on the right? Never. Many times, I have slipped in there, rather than waiting in line, hoping no one notices. It works well, but you do get some strange looks when you come out, in the rare case that a man happens to be waiting. That should change today.

At home, we all use the same toilet. Why is it different in public?

All public washrooms that are single toilets in a room with a sink should be gender neutral. I can think of no good reason for them to be segregated by gender.

When I was in elementary school in the 1970s, there were separate playgrounds and entrances for boys and girls. Not only that, but my kindergarten year (1970) was the first year girls were allowed to wear anything other than a dress to school. That would not fly today. All kids play together and enter through the same doorways and that’s as it should be. In the same way we look at those sexist practices, one day we will look at the way washrooms are managed today with the same disdain.

Just as playgrounds and entrances have entered the new millennium, it’s time for a bathroom upgrade. Single stall, gender neutral bathrooms should be the new norm. It’s well past time.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her