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Vancouver passes gender-neutral washrooms in public buildings

This is a fantastic ‘leadership step,’ says Drew Dennis

The amendment will give trans and gender-variant people more flexibility in washrooms that don’t have to be specified by gender, Drew Dennis says. Credit: Shauna Lewis

City council passed a motion to amend Vancouver’s building codes Sept 25, making it the first municipality in Canada to clearly include provision for gender-neutral washrooms in public buildings, according to city staff.

“It’s fantastic news, I think for everybody in Vancouver, for city council to take this leadership step toward building broader inclusion within building-code bylaw,” says Drew Dennis, who sits on the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee.

Trans and gender-variant people whose gender expression may not align with their biological sex are often harassed or accused of being in the wrong washroom, Dennis explains.

The amendment will give people more flexibility in “single-stalled washrooms that don’t have to be specified by gender,” says Dennis, who identifies as trans.

“It recognizes that there is a broad range of users that might benefit from this flexibility — of course trans and gender-variant folks, but as well, parents of children of the opposite sex, caregivers who have clients that are the opposite sex and so on,” Dennis says.

“There’s myself and many others — a whole spectrum of people — who are harassed based on the choice of the washroom that they choose to use. Allowing more flexibility, and allowing for different types of washrooms and different destinations, is a great step forward in eliminating some of that,” Dennis says.

Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson enthusiastically supported the amendment and called the bylaw changes “historic” and “a very, very significant step for the city.”

 “I’m very happy to support this. The amount of work that has gone into this is fantastic,” he told city council.

“We really do have a city that’s far ahead and this takes us another big step,” he added. “This is a really significant first in Canada. I think that there will be many other cities that will follow suit.”

Vancouver’s chief building official, Will Johnson, worked with both the LGBTQ and women’s advisory committees to draft the amendment.

If gender-neutral washrooms are installed, there are features that are needed to ensure that privacy and security concerns are addressed, Johnson noted in his report.

“One of the things we’ve heard a lot about is that when you have a gender-neutral washroom, there may be concerns if something went wrong in that washroom, when someone was crying for help,” Johnson said. “It’s either you provide no door into the washroom, or you provide a grill above the door that actually will allow any cries for help to be heard outside the washroom.”

Johnson says the code also includes specific requirements for washroom locking devices so it’s clear when washrooms are occupied.

Along with the provision of gender-neutral washrooms in city facilities, other approved amendments to the building codes addressed accessibility and adaptability for people with disabilities.