Report Launch: Trans Youth and the Right to Access Public Washrooms
by Jay Jaxen Jonah
YouthREX Research Assistant
Master of Social Work Student, York University
The following is an excerpt from YouthREX's Research to Practice Report: Trans Youth and the Right to Access Public Washrooms
“Entering a public washroom for the purpose of a necessary biological function should not be a shaming experience or a problem of any sort.” - Lori B. Girshick
It is already difficult to be a youth with all of the associated physical, emotional, and psychological changes that are happening. For those who identify as being part of the trans community, or in other words, whose biological sex does not match their assigned gender at birth, many daily activities become even more stress inducing and anxiety provoking. For example, many youth struggle with clothing choices because they want to appear ‘cool’ and wear what is in style. Trans-identified youth not only have the stress of choosing clothing that is cool, but they also have to choose clothing that hides certain features they may find undesirable, such as breasts (or the lack thereof). Along with clothing, trans youth also struggle with simple daily things that most of us don’t even consider, such as which washroom to enter. Cisgender people, or those whose biology and gender align, may not understand what a challenge it is for trans youth to find a safe place to urinate, even in schools.
Trans identified youth are also at a greater risk of suicide, self-harm, depression, and body shame. This may be the effect of experiencing bullying, homophobia, and transphobia in their schools and beyond. EGALE recently reported on their national survey which sought to understand daily student experiences of homophobia in schools:
This study also found that “the two school spaces most commonly experienced as unsafe by LGBTQ youth … are places that are almost invariably gender-segregated: physical education change rooms and school washrooms”. Of these two spaces, 43% of LGBTQ identified students felt unsafe in their school washrooms.
Safe access to a public washroom should be a basic human right and it should be available to all in youth programs, schools and beyond. This is merely one of the many issues trans youth face. This is why the Ontario government has designated LGBTQ youth as a priority group in Stepping Up: A Strategic Framework to Help Youth Succeed (Ministry of Child of Youth Services, 2012). Based on the evidence presented in our Research to Practice report, Trans Youth and the Right to Access Public Washrooms, I strongly recommend that youth-centered programs and services, at the bare minimum, provide facilities that are inclusive, safe, and supportive for all youth, cisgender and otherwise.
Some steps that youth-centred programs and services can take to become more inclusive for trans youth include:
1. Do not ask for sex, gender, or sexual orientations unless absolutely necessary.
If collecting this information is necessary, youth should not be restricted to check boxes (man, women, other). A good practice is to simply ask for gender and leave space for youth to write whatever response they please.
2. Ensure that your space is inclusive which means providing access to gender-neutral washrooms.
Imagine wanting to attend a support program for marginalized youth, but being unable to participate because you are not able to safely use the washroom. If, for example, the program is small and has limited financial resources, the program need only change the existing washrooms signs to gender-neutral. Having a gender-neutral washroom would help organizations move closer to ensuring that that trans youth can safely and comfortably attend a program.
3. Do not essentialize or assume.
Be aware that trans youth who use these services are not only coming from a variety of social locations, cultural backgrounds, religious backgrounds, but also have various gender identities and sexual orientations. The intersections between these identities needs to be recognized and it must be made clear that you cannot tell how a person identifies by just looking at them.
4. Undertake training, education, and awareness-raising efforts
to introduce mainstream cisgender people to the complexities of gender identity, gender expressions, and the negative consequences of assumptions. These should be made available to all youth program staff, volunteers, and program participants.
Join us on September 1, from 12pm – 1pm (EST) for our webinar on Supporting Trans Youth Wellbeing to learn more about this topic!
For more information on Transgender programs and supports around the province, please check out these resources compiled by Gender Mosaic.
To download a copy of this Research to Practice Report, please click here.
Jonah, J.J. (2016). Trans Youth and the Right to Access Public Washrooms: A Critical Perspective on a Social Policy. Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX). Toronto, ON.