In his keynote address called A Journey to Saving Lives: From Ignorance, to intuition, to Data, at the Mississauga Halton LHIN Health Equity Symposium in March of 2016, Marcus Logan, a long-time health equity advocate for the LGBTQ community, remarked: “I really appreciate this opportunity – it’s not often that I get to talk about LGBTQ health equity. Twenty years ago, when I started this work, I never thought we’d be here.” He goes on to thank those local organizations who, over the several years, were instrumental in moving health equity and data collection forward and closed his introductory remarks with: “Also, gender-neutral washrooms, here – that’s health equity. Thank you. That’s a really good example of health equity.” Click here to view Marcus’s keynote address and other videos from the 2016 health equity symposium.
As the lead for the health equity project and the organizers of the health equity symposium, we were thrilled to get this kind of reaction for having worked with the venue to let us designate one washroom as a gender-neutral (also referred to as all-gender) washroom. 2016 was our third health equity symposium we organized in the Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network catchment area. Each time we had allocated one or more washrooms as all-gender washrooms, though never with much attention being brought to it.
The remarks by Marcus Logan made us reflect and we realized that, in some small way, we had an opportunity to increase the visibility – and more importantly – the need of all-gender washrooms. Over the years, to us they had become a regular part of organizing health equity events but every time a lot of work went into explaining them to the venue organizers. Hence we decided, as a social enterprise, we could start offering local organizations in Kitchener and Waterloo all-gender washroom signs.
The first place we approached was a local Kitchener beer brewery called Together We’re Bitter (TWB) . We went in offered them an all-gender washroom sign for their single washroom. Maybe not surprising there was not even the slightest hesitation. Why, because as a co-operative, they value democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In fact, the international co-operative principles include (to name just a few):
- Open membership to everyone
- Inclusion and participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Concern for Community
TWB recently tweeted, proudly displaying their new sign:
Having a Gender Neutral Washroom/All Gender Sign is by definition an extension of such values and principles – in particular those of equity, solidarity, inclusion, and concern for community. Of course, Together We’re Bitter is not the first place (maybe one of the first paces in the Waterloo Region to make such a statement) because some universities, schools, and public buildings are already installing all-gender washrooms across the country in an attempt to explicitly protect LGBT+ people and those who are gender-variant to create environments free of discrimination, prejudice, and harassment.
Locally, Seven Shores Community Café in Waterloo also accepted our offer to exchange their signs to reflect all-gender washrooms and we are currently in conversation with some other local restaurants/coffee shops throughout the Region.
As our organization includes both allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, we believe that in order to be a fully inclusive society such washrooms need to become the norm (we know it is not the only approach). Ideally, we’d like to see the Universities and Colleges, the Region of Waterloo and all local municipalities spearhead this movement of inclusion, and we are confident that, sooner rather than later, they will. In fact, in the aftermath of the presidential election south of us, such a move would be a great statement in contrast to the movement of white male privilege based on exclusion and racism proposed by the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump. Let’s hope those locally who are in positions of power will see the need and work towards creating environments free of discrimination, prejudice, and harassment. For now, we will work from the ground up and offer those signs to small local businesses.
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