‘Dirty protest’ against Somerville’s newly gender-neutral toilets
(first published at https://cherwell.org/2018/05/06/dirt-protest-against-somervilles-newly-gender-neutral-toilets/ in May 2018)
A “dirty protest”, involving urination and vandalism, has been staged in the Somerville College bar’s toilets, which were recently made gender-neutral.
The door of a cubicle in what was previously the male bathroom was inscribed with the words: “We want our fucking urinals back”. The vandalism was accompanied by a puddle of urine left on the floor.
College members received an email from the decanal team the following day, which stated: “The College authorities take this matter exceedingly seriously and will not tolerate such behaviour.
“Somerville prides itself on being an inclusive College and we expect all of our members to treat each other and the College with dignity and respect.”
The email also urged members of the college to contact the deans with any information regarding the incident.
Students also received an email from JCR president Niall Macklin, titled “I can’t believe you’ve done this.” The email requested that the perpetrator “refrain from being a barbaric idiot.” Niall’s email further read: “If you have a problem with the changes please use the wonderful democratic process that is the JCR general meeting and not dirty protests.”
The incident follows complaints addressed to college officials made by JCR members, in particular LGBTQ+ officer Eilidh Wilson, over the new gender-neutral signs attached to the toilet doors over the vacation.
Rather than stating “gender neutral”, as requested, the signs display traditional, binary symbols and make no reference to those who identify outside of the gender spectrum.The motion to make the toilets gender neutral, passed by the JCR last term, made no request to remove the urinals. It proposed to “ask college to replace the signs in the college bar and the dining hall with signs that say ‘gender neutral toilet with cubicles’ and ‘gender neutral toilet with cubicles and urinals’.”
Over the Easter vacation, however, the urinals were boarded up and the new signage was attached to the doors with velcro, provoking heavy criticism from the student body.
A Somerville student told Cherwell: “We can’t really be sure if this was a genuinely transphobic act or whether it was someone just being a bit stupid and inconsiderate after too many pints.
“Either way, the urinals shouldn’t have been removed, we never asked for that. But to show your discontent with the clueless way college have dealt with the issue by doing this is very inconsiderate and could make some people feel really attacked.”
LGBTQ+ Officer, Eilidh Wilson, told Cherwell: “It has been pointed out that the sentiment behind the act of vandalism may not have been one of hatred of transgender people or hostility to gender neutral toilets but rather frustration at the removal of the urinals.
“This seems especially likely considering that the request of the JCR motion that was passed last term mentioned nothing about the removal of urinals. I personally supported keeping the urinals but college made the decision to remove them after the motion was passed.
“Regardless of the motivations of the perpetrator/perpetrators, this act of vandalism comes on the back of an extremely important change to make college, especially the toilets, an inclusive space for trans people.
“It has upset many LGBT students in college and has been received by some as a sign of intolerance and an alarming lack of sensitivity to the experiences of trans people.
“Whoever is behind this is seriously failing to see the bigger picture: the loss of a urinal is simply not as important as trans rights.”
Since the incident, transgender flags have been hung over what was the urinals in a mark of solidarity.