Stall(ed) Progress: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at Macquarie


Words || Angus Dalton

When the Australian Human Rights Commission launched the first LGBTQI+ University Guide in 2015, the then Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said that many universities had “a way to go” when it came to inclusivity for LGBTQI+ students. Wilson specified that support for trans and intersex students was particularly lacking. “For the most part society has properly included respect for the L, the G and the B. It is the T and the I that continue to be ignored, and for no purpose. Ensuring that trans and intersex people are treated equally to all others is essential,” he said.

The availability of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus is a basic need for many students that is yet to be met at Macquarie. Iona, an intersex student, says that while students generally feel safe around campus, being forced to use a male or female bathroom presents an uncomfortable dilemma.

“I have had one or two moments where if I went into the women’s toilet I’d be stared at, and if I went into the men’s toilet I’d be literally risking violence,” Iona told Grapeshot. “That’s a pretty difficult situation to be in, so gender-neutral toilets would have made me physically and mentally safer.”

There are currently no purpose-built gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, leaving many students with no choice but to use accessible bathrooms, which are gender-neutral by default.

Jonathon Papadopoulo, Student Equity and Diversity Officer, says this is an unsatisfactory situation. “It is not appropriate to suggest that students in need of a gender-neutral bathroom could use an accessible bathroom instead, as these bathrooms should be reserved for people with physical accessibility issues that are unable to use another bathroom.”

On 28 May 2015, a few weeks after the findings of LGBTQI+ University Guide were revealed, Macquarie’s newly elected SRC unanimously passed a motion to support the installation of a gender-neutral bathroom on campus after a policy paper on the matter was circulated by Lachlan McGrath. On 11 June 2015, McGrath and Student HQ hosted a consultative session with members of the Queer Collective, which was attended by trans and intersex students. “It was a great meeting with a lot of different perspectives, and from that we determined what was important to see in these new bathrooms,” McGrath told Grapeshot.

It wasn’t until May 2016 – a full year after the issue was first raised – that the SRC minutes noted that the plans for the gender-neutral bathrooms had been approved after “thorough consultation with the community”. Iona believes the SRC’s communication with students in the meantime has been lacking.

“I feel like the queer students’ rep[resentative] has been great, but the SRC could have been significantly more so,” they said. “It did feel – and has felt since – awfully like people were just going through the motions of looking like they were queer-positive … rather than actually caring.”

In early October 2016, Grapeshot was made aware that the gender-neutral bathrooms would be installed in the new Campus Hub building after the current Hub is demolished in late 2017. In the meantime, the Property Office proposed to establish a gender-neutral sign on the existing male toilets in the Hub. This proposal was eventually rejected by the SRC and the Campus Engagement Office. McGrath explained that the SRC decided to instead wait for purpose-built gender-neutral bathrooms to be established in the MUSE building, which is due for renovation this year. The gender-neutral bathrooms should have multiple stalls with lockable doors and no urinals, and will look similar to other bathrooms on campus, McGrath confirmed.

Papadopoulo voiced his agreement with the rejection of the proposal to install a gender-neutral sign on an existing male bathroom. Making cosmetic changes to existing male and female bathrooms could potentially instigate more negative behaviour towards trans, intersex, gender diverse and gender non-conforming people on campus. “Ideally, future toilets being built would be based on a gender-neutral model. It is unlikely and also resource-ineffective to change all the existing bathrooms structurally.”

Melbourne University is currently in the process of establishing 37 gender-neutral bathrooms across its campus. While Macquarie lags behind, Papadopoulo believes small yet effective steps – such as implementing hazardous waste bins for tampons and pads in every bathroom, including male toilets, could extend inclusiveness to students who are being forced to wait months for a safe place on campus to use the bathroom.

“The legal view in Australia – and the view espoused by Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practice – is that you have the right to use any bathroom corresponding with your identity,” Papadopoulo reminds students. “Students should also be aware that if someone refuses, bars or prohibits their use of a bathroom, or harasses/bullies them, then they do have the right to raise a complaint as this could amount to misconduct.”

Grapeshot encourages anyone who experiences sexual harassment or assault to report it to the police, or to call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT.

If you’re enjoying Grapeshot Online, come meet us irl February 27, at the launch party of our next issue, Daddy! It’s at Ubar at 4:30pm, and there will be drink vouchers, temporary tats, and bangers.