Signs of the Times – Winnipeg Free Press
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights makes all of its washrooms inclusive spaces that everyone can use, regardless of gender identity.
On Monday morning, shopkeepers removed signage with the familiar ‘male’ or ‘female’ icons from each of the Winnipeg facility’s 18 public bathrooms, replacing them with signage depicting icons of the amenities inside – toilets, urinals and changing tables. Any staff or volunteer washrooms in the building will also move away from the binary gender system – male or female. Bathrooms that were already single occupancy areas will remain so.
Each bathroom will also soon be equipped with dispensers filled with free menstrual products and disposal units.
“We want everyone to be able to go to the bathroom safely and comfortably,” said Haran Vijayanathan, director of equity and growth at the museum. “We don’t want to force people to conform to a gender binary system (which they may not subscribe to).”
While for decades the norm has been to divide bathrooms into male and female categories, gender exists beyond that binary, says Noreen Mian, executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre, which offers many forms of support to the local LGBTTQ+ community.
Mian called the progress of the museum pot “a step in the right direction,” affirming individual and collective rights to access inclusive and safe spaces, while supporting the needs of transgender, non-binary or other people. gender diverse, as well as cisgender (those whose gender matches their birth sex) allies.
“It normalizes the reality that people don’t just identify as male or female,” said Mian, whose organization was consulted by the museum before the change. “It looks like an active demonstration on their part to do better and to remedy the wrongdoings of the past.”
Over the past two years, the museum has experienced an identity crisis that it has been forced to confront head-on. A 2020 review of the institution – spurred by revelations that some LGBTTQ+ content had been censored or hidden from certain tourist groups between 2015 and 2017 – said the CMHR had a “pervasive” and “systematic” problem of racism, sexual harassment and homophobia, which led to widespread public criticism, as well as administrative upheaval.
Former CEO John Young left the museum in August 2020 and, in his place, the federal heritage minister appointed human rights lawyer Isha Khan, who became both the first woman and first person of color to lead the CMHR.
Mian of the Rainbow Resource Center said concrete changes to infrastructure and policies reduce this stigma and create opportunities for inclusion and increased comfort. She was impressed that rather than changing one or two bathrooms to become gender-neutral, the museum did so for every installation in the building. This kind of movement helps affirm people’s gender identity, she said, and could inspire other organizations to make similar changes.
With the bathroom change, Vijayanathan – whose work was created in response to 2020 concerns – says the museum is addressing previous issues and ongoing inclusivity considerations in a simple but crucial way. On the museum’s website, there is a list of all the recommendations that track how they were implemented.
“We can proudly say that we have started to implement them,” he said. “We are by no means perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.”
The next step in the bathroom department is to work with an architect to make physical changes beyond signage, including increasing privacy with taller stalls.
But first, the binary restroom signage had to go.