Vancouver parks could soon be home to non-gendered washrooms designed to be shared by people of all abilities, families, transgender and gender-diverse people.
A draft report being reviewed by the City’s advisory committees calls for improved “privacy, safety and efficiency through universal design.” About 20 new washrooms are being proposed for Vancouver parks, while others could be altered if they are deemed inaccessible.
The park board has already set an important precedent with universal change rooms at the Hillcrest Community Centre.
The Washroom Strategy draft document is currently being reviewed by the City’s advisory committees for seniors, the LGBTQ2+ community, persons with disabilities, children, youth and families, women, and urban Indigenous peoples.
It asks point blank: “Do you think that all park washrooms should be universal?”
The City has already installed “trans people welcome” signage on washrooms at city hall and other city-run buildings as part of its Supporting Trans* Equality and an Inclusive Vancouver plan.
Gender-inclusive washrooms are becoming a fixture on many university campuses, including UBC.
The Point Grey campus has several dozen single-user unisex washrooms and also communal gender-neutral washrooms that include signage indicating gender inclusivity that have operated without incident.
“We’ve not had any complaints,” Sara-Jane Finlay, associate vice-president, Equity and Inclusion. “The communal facilities feature stalls with floor to ceiling doors for privacy and of course there are always single stall washrooms. People have a choice.”
Gender-inclusive communal washrooms are still relatively rare. But Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre opened a communal, 10-stall gender-neutral washroom about one year ago. The mall has seven gender-specific washrooms, as well.
The notion of shared, non-gendered washrooms sparked a lively debate and a considerable amount of support in a Facebook poll, which was punctuated by concerns about sexual harassment, sexual assault and the unsanitary condition of washrooms used by men.
“Having to touch a toilet seat, to put it down or wipe extensive urine spray from it, in a public washroom grosses me out,” offered broadcaster Jody Vance. “As does standing in a puddle of pee associated with bad aim. So — I’m cool to share with whomever — as long as we can maintain cleanliness for those who don’t have the option to stand and relieve themselves.”
Many respondents who support “inclusive” washrooms and argued they might actually be safer for people in parks that might be isolated.
“Violent predators already have access to any washroom they want,” said Kevin Moroso. “Having a single bathroom increases the likelihood that there are more people present, rather than a woman being alone in a woman’s washroom with a male predator.”
Not everyone agreed.
“Homeless people use those washrooms disproportionately,” said Stuart Parker, broadcaster and former leader of the Green party of B.C. “I don’t want there to be yet another policy change that makes homeless women feel even less safe and in control of their space.”
Short term priorities in the draft report include creating a task force to visit existing washrooms and direct renovations to ensure accessibility, increase staff to better focus on safety and cleanliness and standardize signage to make washrooms easier to find.
More mobile trailer toilets could be used to meet the needs of parks that see heavy seasonal use.
Consultations for the City’s VanPlay parks masterplan revealed a need for add washrooms at playing fields, destination playgrounds, and beaches, and to ensure facilities are kept clean.
Almost 43 per cent of washroom-related calls to the City’s feedback line concerned cleanliness.
According to the draft, John Hendry Park Masterplan about three quarters of all respondents support a new washroom building at the South Beach and expanded facilities on the north east side of the park, known locally as Trout Lake.
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