A decade ago, many public pools across Canada posted signs stating that guests must use the bathroom codified by one’s birth sex – either men’s or women’s. The City of Yellowknife is turning its attention to which of its facilities will accommodate gender-neutral restrooms and changing facilities, in support of bathroom access as a basic human right, said senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett in an interview with Yellowknifer.

At Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, staff have posted makeshift signs that state those over age seven may use the bathroom that suits their gender, or use the lobby change room.

“If we can create bathrooms that are welcome and inclusive, it should be a no-brainer,” said Bassi-Kellett. “Every house has a gender-neutral bathroom.”

The city is recognizing its spaces need to be physically accessible and inclusive, said Bassi-Kellett.

“Bathrooms are a good place to start.”


‘Gender-neutral space’

The library, which recently had all-gender signage installed in its washrooms, is now “as open and supportive as possible,” said Bassi-Kellett.

“In the longer term, for example, we have our aquatic centre advisory committee. It’s been really loud and clear that we need to have gender-neutral space,” she said.

In submissions to the city’s survey on the future aquatic centre, Rainbow Coalition executive director Chelsea Thacker pushed for gender-neutral change rooms.

In 2017 the federal government passed Bill C-16, enshrining protections for trans and gender non-conforming people under the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

Critics argued the bill would allow men to pose as women and attack people in bathrooms. There were also concerns raised over the public being forced to use specific pronouns.

Advocates argued the rhetoric promoted problematic myths about trans and gender non-conforming people and that trans people are statistically at a greater risk of violence, discrimination and harassment than their cisgendered peers.

“Really they’re just trying to go to the bathroom,” said Thacker. “For people who don’t have to think about the choice, they make it very difficult or don’t understand the importance of using a washroom that makes you feel comfortable.”

In a 2015 study, Being Safe, Being Me, Canadian trans youth stated they felt least safe in washrooms and changing rooms, and the most safe in classrooms and libraries.

One in three participants reported being physically injured or threatened in the past year, and nine per cent said they were threatened with a weapon. Almost two in three trans youth reported being taunted or ridiculed.


Initial steps

The city doesn’t have a directive yet on gender-inclusiveness, but the pool, the city hall lobby and library are the initial steps while the city conducts research into how to alter city facilities.

The municipal government is also studying options for the Fieldhouse and Multiplex.

The Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife would be supportive of any city directive to implement gender-neutral bathrooms and facilities, said Thacker.

“Any public space that is for the whole public to use that doesn’t have gender-neutral bathrooms is problematic,” said Thacker. “Relegating trans people to accessibility washrooms is also a quick, but ineffective fix because it takes away a washroom from people who use wheelchairs or have mobility challenges.”

Often the solution is single-stall bathrooms which offer greater privacy, said Thacker.

The library has opted for something similar to single-stall use, said library manager John Mutford.

The two washrooms are labelled all-gender with A and B keys.

“So far the public has been great about it and its cut down on lines.”

Avery Zingel

Avery Zingel is a reporter and photographer in Yellowknife, regularly covering environment, health and territorial politics. Avery is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Political...

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