Content warning: This article deals with, and responds to transphobic rhetoric.
Before going through this conversation related to the Peterborough Wellness Centre and change rooms I would like to share a positionality statement. I identify as a cis white male. It is important to highlight the voices of transgender and non-binary individuals as this topic could lead to violence directed to transgender individuals. Because of this, the identities of people interviewed are anonymous. The people most impacted by violence and oppression must be heard.
At the March 8th general committee meeting, Lett Architects and the City explained that the Wellness Centre needed repairs to the heating and ventilation system, grout, finishes and because the Centre was not inclusive for everyone. More information can be found on the March 8th meeting.
After it was announced that the Peterborough Wellness Centre was being renovated due to aging piping and HVAC systems there was backlash from the Committee of Bathroom Choice over one part of the plan which was to create one gender neutral change room from three existing change rooms (Men’s, Women’s and family).
On March 22 City Hall supported creating a second survey regarding the Peterborough Wellness Centre. This was done after protests and petitions from "The Committee for Bathroom Choice" which used transphobic rhetoric often used to vilify the transgender community when they use change rooms or washrooms such as the fear of peeping toms, sexual assault and violence. These forms of sexual violence are actually more likely to be directed towards transgender individuals in these spaces. This backlash is largely built on transphobic rhetoric -- as described by members of the international and local transgender community -- and cannot be separated from the widespread transphobia seen in the United States.
Trish Clarkson said "Ignoring women's rights in favour of transgender rights is not the way of the future...We're still plagued by the male gaze watching and judging us." This is problematic because the statement minimizes the constant violence, policing of gender, and violations of privacy that transgender people face.
Councilor Dean Pappas said "Council is inclusive. This whole thing about the change room and plumbing I think are two separate issues. I think of course we're inclusive. We want to make people feel safe...” It should be up to people impacted to determine whether or not a city is inclusive.
The City of Peterborough signed on to the Canadian Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities which created the LGBTQ2+ Inclusiveness toolkit. The toolkit says:
“Unfortunately, many facilities continue to maintain binary gendered washrooms and change rooms putting trans, and non‑binary individuals at a higher risk of experiencing violence, hate, and harassment.”
“Infrastructure such as gender-neutral change rooms and washrooms, along with single-stall options, are a key step to creating safer spaces for LGBTQ2+ individuals.”
In addition, to the issues of inclusiveness there is a risk that $1 million in grant funding may be pulled from the project if there are delays and staff have pointed out the difficulty cleaning the gender specific change rooms which will be easier with one gender inclusive space.
Based on staff reports, interviews with someone from the transgender community and personal observations and research it is clear that the city of Peterborough will fail transgender and non-binary people if they approve a re-design that isn’t inclusive for everyone instead of the current design of one gender neutral washroom.
Discrimination on who can use bathrooms or change rooms isn't new. Prior to the civil rights movement the discrimination was directed towards Black people. Today the thought that there would be segregation based on race in the bathroom would be widely considered a violation of civil rights. Today the discrimination is directed towards the transgender community based on similar efforts to prevent people from accessing public washrooms targeted at the trans community that segregated racialized communities. Sarah Frostenson and Zachary Crocket wrote "Over the years, this fear of sharing bathrooms has reared its teeth under the veil of racism, homophobia, and, most recently, transphobia."
This issue is often dismissed as something that only matters to the trans community, but it should be noted that there are cis people including myself who are supportive of transgender rights and improved access to change rooms.
I interviewed a transgender man who highlighted concerns with transphobia in regards to the Peterborough Wellness Centre change room status quo. This is an edited conversation.
What are your thoughts on the survey?
A survey would cater to the majority of people. Who are cisgender, heteronormative people. The survey is not relevant to the city being an ally to minority gender identities like non binary people and transgendered people like myself... If there are only 1000 transgendered people and 80,000 cisgender people obviously no matter what the wants or needs of the transgender and non-binary community is the cis voice will overshadow [their needs].
Is there anything you would like to add?
Transgender and non-binary people are not the enemy. We just want space for ourselves. A family space should truly be what that says. A family space. I shouldn't have to share a bathroom with families because bigots aren't comfortable with the idea of bathrooms being gender neutral. Having an accessible bathroom is an accessibility thing. Every business, every institution should have bathrooms that are accessible and cater to all groups of people not just the majority.
If people are worried about trans people spying on us… that is a narrative that cis people have pushed to deny us rights to use the same bathrooms. I don’t think gender neutral washrooms are problems if everyone respects personal space.
We’re not interested in peeking or looking at anyone or being peeping Tom’s or anything like that. We’re just trying to live our lives and be respected like everyone else.
Do you believe the city has reached out to anyone in the transgender community, the Trent Queer Collective as an example before making this survey?
No. They haven’t. They are making decisions about our bodies without asking for our input. As an ethics student, autonomy is a big thing in this ethical situation. I think they should reach out to us so the best solution for us can be made possible because cisgender people don’t need more bathrooms. They have bathrooms in every institution around in the City… cisgender people don’t need more change rooms, they don’t need more space is what I'm saying.
There are a lot of people saying the family Change room is adequate. I’m wondering if you have a response?
If people are uncomfortable with transgender and non-binary people just existing in regular change rooms. What makes you think they are going to want them to exist in a family. A kid might question their parent and they might say I don’t want that around my children and that’s not adequate enough because there’s going to be backlash on that end as well.
RG: That is a good point
Because a lot of people even though it's [being transgender or non-binary] brought into the mainstream it's still very taboo and a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of cis people and non-binary people and want to shield their kids away from [transgender and non-binary people]. I think that’s an ignorant thing but, I’m not a parent. At the end of the day that’s a possible backlash point that could exist [when] people are not comfortable with those identities around their children or family.
I know you touched on this. What is the importance of gender-neutral spaces?
Number one gender is a social construct it's just how you present yourself to the world. Having a gender-neutral change room so society hey we don’t care what you identify as. You have space and you hold space here and we respect your identity. Trans and non-binary people go into cisgender spaces and have problems. There’s a backlash about going into gendered bathrooms. I myself have gone into gendered bathrooms and I've had people look at me strange, that sort of thing. I just want to be able to change comfortably in peace. Things are changing now and it’s important to count us in as well and make sure we have space where we feel safe to change, use the bathroom that sort of thing.
The city signed onto the inclusive municipalities. Do you think by allowing a survey like this the city is inclusive?
Like I said I see what they are trying to do they are. They are trying to give the public its voice but, at the end of the day when the public is majority cis heterosexual and this is an issue about minority identities. That’s not in the interest of accessibility or inclusivity. That’s in the interest of people pleasing. True change happens when boundaries are pushed. When the majority who hold the power are made uncomfortable to make sure the minority who don’t have any power, don’t have any access to things have the same rights, have the same access.
Do you have a message for City Council?
My message to City Council is talk to the people who your decision is actually going to affect. Make a decision with those people. Don’t make a decision based on the majority because the majority won’t lose anything or won’t gain anything but, the gender minority which is non binary and transgender people, we either gain something or lose something. There is no in between.
The Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre didn’t have an official statement however, they have a gender inclusive single stall washroom and believes in inclusion and supporting trans and non-binary folks.
The Trent Queer Collective created an infographic on their Instagram on the importance of gender-neutral spaces which can be found on the @TrentQueerCollective Instagram and Facebook pages.
Residents of the City of Peterborough are encouraged to fill out the Peterborough Wellness Centre Survey. This survey can be found at https://www.connectptbo.ca/pswcreno. For further information, or if you have any questions, Arenas, Parks and Recreation Chair and City Councillor Lesley Parnell, may be contacted at 705-742-7777 ext. 4641 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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