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Capital Pride takes on Bathrooms Without Borders

Ottawa’s Pride festival chooses gender-neutral washrooms as theme

Capital Pride in Ottawa has chosen Bathrooms Without Borders for its 2016 theme. Credit: Graphic courtesy Jenny Walker

If you need to pee at Ottawa’s Capital Pride this August, don’t ask how to find the men’s room — there won’t be one. The celebration has chosen gender-neutral washrooms as its theme, taking on the international struggle over where trans people should relieve themselves.

Most recently, the bathroom fight broke out in North Carolina, where the state government mandated people use public washrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. Opponents argue such laws make trans people uncomfortable and unsafe.

On June 23, Capital Pride unveiled its “Bathrooms Without Borders” theme, describing the choice as  “a clear expression of support for those whose struggle for equality, dignity and basic rights continues.”

The main expression of the theme, of course, will be the washrooms themselves. “If it’s a ‘signature event’ — an event we’re responsible for — there will be [gender-neutral] washrooms,” says Tammy Dopson, chair of Capital Pride.

Capital Pride also encourages other organizations hosting events during the festival to make their washrooms gender-neutral for Pride. “We can’t force them, but we can certainly ask them to do that,” Dopson says. “And I think most of our community partners will probably comply.”

Dopson also hopes parade floats will get in on the act, incorporating toilet paper rolls, giant fake toilets, and the like. “We’re certainly encouraging people in the parade — especially those with floats — to really examine the fun that they could be having with Bathrooms Without Borders,” she says.

The newish Capital Pride organization (its predecessor went bankrupt in late 2014) searched this year for a theme that matched its mission statement: advocacy, education and celebration.

Organizers hit on washrooms as one of the most talked about issues affecting queer communities today. “When you sort of look at [possible themes] that would fit the three pillars of pride, we found something to celebrate, and advocate for, and educate around, and we thought that trans rights was appropriate,” Dopson says.

“When people become more educated about transgender lives, they’ll realize there’s nothing to fear here. If anything, humanity has an opportunity to grow,” she says. “Bathrooms Without Borders is about supporting our trans community — not just in Canada, or here in Ottawa, but globally.”