Gender Neutral Washrooms in Elementary Schools

A gender neutral washroom at a Starbucks restaurant. (Rebecca Feddema/Flickr)

A gender neutral washroom at a Starbucks restaurant. (Rebecca Feddema/Flickr)

With the introduction of sexual education in elementary schools, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is being questioned as to whether or not the future of their schools will include gender neutral private washrooms.

“That’s a bit too young!” says Samuel Menardi, a recent secondary school graduate.

In February 2015, Ontario re-vamped their sex-education curriculum by introducing the subject in primary grades. Students between the ages of 6 and 8 are now being taught about topics regarding sexual identities, gender, consent, and same-sex relationships. Education Minister Liz Sandals noted in a news conference that before these recent changes, the curriculum documents had not been looked at since 1998.

“I think in the primary areas of the school it is important to keep them gender specific because it teaches boundaries,” says Michelle Kramer, a developmental social worker. “Once you get into the intermediate grades like 5 and up, it should be gender neutral just because that’s when bodies start changing and kids become more aware within themselves as to what gender they most identify with,” she says.

One of the most commonly reported issues in the trans youth community from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is lack of access to appropriate restroom facilities. Public buildings and institutions such as Ryerson University and Sheridan College, have recognized the struggles of the LGBTQ community and have started to or are working towards incorporating gender neutral private washrooms on their grounds.

“I think the effectiveness of this idea depends on how these washrooms are going to be labelled,” says Reyaud Mohamed, a student at OCAD University and a lifeguard/swimming instructor for public pools in the city. “As a swimming instructor for youths I witness some children who refrain from the locker rooms because it makes them uncomfortable, so I would assume that going to these specific washrooms would make it more difficult for them to feel less like outsiders,” he says.

A report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in 2014, states that “LGBTQ students feel safer and more accepted when they know their schools have policies and procedures that explicitly address homophobia.” Menardi expressed a concern for the queer children being bullied by peers who will notice these trans-youths using special labelled washrooms.

“I think it would bring up a lot of issues, especially around bullying. Say a girl dresses and acts like a tom boy, and she is straight. But kids might make the assumption that she is gay, or transgendered,” says Shannon Medeiros, social service worker. “I just don’t think that every child will have the capacity to fully understand and appreciate the issues within the LGBTQ community, especially if the views in their homes are complete opposite of what is being taught in school.”

Here is a timeline of Canadian organizations over the years that have come together to combat homophobia and voice their concerns.

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