Somerville u-turns on gender neutral toilets
(This article was originally published at https://cherwell.org/2018/01/26/somerville-u-turns-on-gender-neutral-toilets/ in January 2018)
Somerville JCR has voted to introduce gender neutral toilets, after they rejected a similar proposal last term.
College officials will be asked to replace signs in the college bar which currently say ‘male’ and ‘female’. These will now read ‘gender neutral toilets with cubicles’ or ‘gender neutral toilets with urinals’.
Almost 80 per cent of the JCR voted in favour of the motion in a secret ballot on Sunday.
The changes will be implemented in other public areas of the college, including in the dining room, the Flora Anderson Hall, and the Vaughan building, a first year accommodation block.
The vote is a change in direction for the College after a similar motion failed last term following concerns that the removal of binary toilets could create opportunities for harassment against cisgender women.
Eilidh Wilson, Somerville’s LGBTQ Officer who proposed the motion, said: “For many people going to the bathroom is a thoughtless task, however, for trans, gender nonconforming and non-binary students fulfilling this basic need can be daunting, distressing, and potentially dangerous due to the potential for harassment and violence.
“It is Somerville’s duty to put adequate provisions on place for the trans community to fulfil this basic need without fear or concern.”
Following the passage of the motion, she told Cherwell: “It is encouraging, though not that surprising, that the members of the Somerville JCR showed overwhelming support for this motion.
“I brought this issue back to the JCR so soon because I was confident that many of the concerns brought forward in the last meeting stemmed from unawareness of the experiences and needs of trans people.
“This is about so much more than signage, it is about recognising the detriment of gender binary spaces and the need for change.
“This is a victory for the LGBTQ community of Somerville and I hope that it will help pave the way for similar changes in other colleges.”
The motion is supported by senior college officials, including Somerville President Baroness Janet Royall.
Oxford University LGBTQ Society’s President, Katt Walton, attended last Sunday’s meeting. They said they were: “over the moon that the motion passed with such a huge margin.”
Walton noted: “Unfortunately last term this failed, I think a lot of this had to do with ignorant perceptions about the LGBTQ+ community.
“Students had brought up concerns of cisgendered women being in danger if toilets could be accessed by people of all genders.
“Although concerns about harassment are always valid, the association of these concerns with gender neutral toilets and the trans community is a toxic stereotype that harks back to dangerous perceptions of trans people being sexual predators.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the adoption of gender neutral toilets increases the risk of harassment or assault on cisgendered women.”
“It is a step that goes towards Somerville and Oxford University being more supportive of and inclusive of our trans community.”
The Flora Anderson Hall hosts college bops, and members’ concerns stemmed from the purported risk of harassment in gender neutral toilets as a result of excessive drinking.
One female JCR member said: “I think especially in bops and in Terrace [the college bar], I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in a toilet with a cis man.”
Somerville joins eleven other colleges, including Wadham, Balliol, St. Hugh’s, and St. John’s in changing their toilet policy. This aligns the College with the University of Oxford’s Transgender Guidance Policies.