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‘Not just two options’: Salmon Arm to work towards non-gendered washrooms in city

Council votes unanimously to start with changing single-stall facilities
These are examples of the types of signs that can appear on non-gendered public washrooms. (File photo)

Salmon Arm council voted unanimously to work towards having non-gendered washrooms in the city.

Coun. Sylvia Lindgren introduced a motion May 9 that proposed the city work at making all its single-stall washrooms non-gendered.

Staff noted the city has about 43 washrooms it is responsible for, 26 of which are single stall. The signage on those could be changed.

“Some of the change room areas like in Blackburn, it’s a little more difficult with those ones because they have multiple fixtures. Same with Little Mountain Fieldhouse; Canoe Beach is another example where there are two washrooms with multiple fixtures and change rooms so they really should be specific (regarding gender),” said Rob Niewenhuizen, director of engineering and public works.

Lindgren’s motion noted it is recognized that “gender is not binary and may occur on a spectrum and may be fluid.”

It said discrimination based on gender “is harmful to the mental and physical health of non-binary, transgender, two spirit, gay, lesbian, and gender fluid individuals causing an increased risk of self-harm, suicide, depression and body shame than cisgender individuals.”

It continued: “access to a safe, gender appropriate washroom is a basic human need inherent to a person’s dignity.”

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Lindgren explained that about a year ago she saw a TED Talk by Emily Quinn who discovered at the age of 10, though she presented as a female and was treated as a female, she was actually intersex.

“The video is incredibly good to explain the idea of gender being on a spectrum. And like most human attributes such as eye colour, and hair colour and personality and height and weight, they’re all on a spectrum and there are not just two options,” Lindgren said.

She pointed out a number of cultures around the world recognize there are more than two sex identities, “and gender identity is tied closely to that, and so this is a really important area.”

It would be easy to change the signage on the single-stall washrooms and it would ensure people who don’t fall into the two poles, female and male, have a safe place to go to the washroom, she said.

“And that’s a pretty basic thing to be able to offer to people.”

She outlined her hope that all the city washrooms in Salmon Arm become non-gendered at some point, but she said the single-stall facilities are a good place to start.

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Other councillors voiced their support.

“I’m a 61-year-old grey-haired guy; it’s not something I ever thought of, but I do believe this motion is worthy of supporting and direct staff to start working on the ones (washrooms) that can be changed,” said Coun. Kevin Flynn.

Coun. Tim Lavery added he heard Ivan Coyote give a moving and important presentation on the topic. Coyote is an author, film producer, stage performer and more who often focuses on issues of gender identity.

“I think the key words, ‘work towards’ and ‘single stall,’ are what’s important here,” said Lavery. “I’ve always appreciated the intent is that those who can decrease their anxiety and their comfort level to pee in peace. This does that, it’s important to do that, and it is a basic need and we need to support this where we can.”
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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