CNA Stephenville residence gets two new gender-neutral washrooms
To wait in the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) lobby in Stephenville on September 24, is to witness and feel an almost palpable excitement. A dull murmur of conversation surrounded a small gathering, mainly women from the local Bay St. George women’s group. It’s casual, but it’s easy to tell they were waiting for something. Each woman is adorned in round, flashy buttons for Pride week at CNA; tribal-looking puffins, with rainbow beaks and the word PRIDE in big, bold letters.
The one man that stands in the group is Chris Deohaney, Campus Administrator for the Stephenville branch of the island-spanning college. He doesn’t wear a button, but instead a large smile as he chats with the women. A student overhears the reason for the gathering, and her face floods with relief. “Oh, thank God,” She murmured to herself. It’s suddenly made obvious what they had been waiting for as a woman walks through the doors. She was greeted by the group, all smiles and friendly hellos. Then, it’s time to begin the ceremony. The small group headed downstairs, to the basement.“It’s perfect,” mentioned Jane Robinson, the co-chair of the Women’s Council. “It’s a high-traffic area.”
She’s right; with the library on the right, vending machines and the film studio dead centre and the laundry room on the left, students are always going to be down here for some reason or another. Emblazoned with fresh green paint and brand new government-commissioned signs, there they are: two doors with big, white letters reading “ALL GENDER BATHROOM”. Several people in the small gather are impressed; one even points out the inclusivity of the Braille underneath the words. “Our district manager did some research and I guess this is what he found to be the most inclusive label we could put on the washroom door,” Deohaney said. “As opposed to calling someone gender-neutral.”
The rainbow ribbon was cut making it official. CNA has joined the ranks of the colleges in Newfoundland and Labrador that are LGBT-inclusive. “A couple of weeks ago, Jane [Robinson] contacted us, wondering if we could designate a washroom as gender-neutral for the celebration of Pride Week,” Deohaney said. “I said, ‘what a coincidence,’ because just at the end of last semester we were approached by student council on behalf of the students about the possibility of providing a gender-neutral facility in residence.”
While there isn’t an overly large population of trans* or non-binary students in Stephenville, the need for the neutral washrooms arose last year, when trans students voiced their discomfort in having to choose between doing what was considered ‘correct’ and what felt right to them in choosing a washroom. Andy Carpenter was at the forefront of the debate for the gender-neutral washrooms. They – as Andy uses neutral pronouns – were the first to bring the idea of gender-neutral facilities to the college after a clash of ideals involving gender binary washrooms.
“I’m not the only [non-binary person] out there – not even at this school,” Carpenter said. In realising this, Andy said, they knew that action had to be taken. They met with the campus administrators and co-chairs. Then, when the problem was solved only for them and no one else, they brought the issue to higher authority. “It needs to be corrected at the highest possible level,” Carpenter said. “There are 17 CNA campuses and three residences across Newfoundland, all with gender-questioning students.”
Deohaney said the main concern, especially for the college’s budget, was the cost of creating a fully-functional bathroom and shower unit for all genders. “Washrooms and additions to buildings are expensive,” Deohaney said. “So we’re trying to work with our existing infrastructure to see what we could accommodate in such a quick manner.” While the washrooms don’t have showers yet, it’s still a huge start.
“Since the first step has been taken, I’m ecstatic, actually,” Carpenter said. “Once I heard about it, I kind of just jumped for joy.”
“How often have you seen a woman waiting to use the washroom, and not want to go to the other one because it says male?” said Vanessa Lee, Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Community Youth Network, to full agreement from the group. The idea of having gender-neutral washrooms in all three of the CNA residencies is still in debate with the province-wide college administration, but the idea that it is in fact a debate worth having is a hopeful horizon for the LGBT community.
“Places like these need to exist, so that other people know that we exist,” Carpenter said. “Our needs – the needs of the LGBT community – are just as important.”