By Maryam Madani
New students of DIT Aungier St may have noticed that most of the disabled bathrooms have been transformed into gender-neutral ones, and now bear a four-symbol inclusive sign. The change was unveiled this September and there are now 47 gender-neutral bathrooms across ITs five campuses. This includes at least seven in Aungier St, with one on each floor, according to Buildings Manager, Colm Gillen.
While to some students the change seems to have appeared overnight, in reality it has been in the pipeline for around 3 years. Toryn Glavin, who was Chairperson of DIT LGBT Society 2014/15 and now works for Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), was one of the main campaigners for the gender-neutral bathrooms, alongside an ongoing push from DITSU, its consecutive Welfare Officers and the LGBT Society.
Gender-neutral bathrooms with similar signage are already in place in UCD, DCU, Trinity College, UCC, IT Tallaght, CIT and GMIT.
There are at least a dozen transitioning or transgender students in DIT and 15% of the student body is of the LGBT community. Ali Hilley, Vice-Chairperson of DIT LGBT Society gave a statement on behalf of the group saying “We think the gender neutral bathrooms are a major step forward for DIT, and are disappointed by the negative feedback received. We would also like to point out that for anyone who thinks negatively about these facilities that the bathrooms in their own homes are unisex or gender neutral.”
The negative feedback in question comes mainly from a post announcing the new toilets on the DITSU Facebook Page, posted on September 14th. Of the 300+ comments, many were supportive, but an alarming amount showed opposition and a lack of understanding as to the purpose of the gender-neutral bathrooms.
DITSU has announced plans for an Education Campaign on the topic, which it aims to launch at the end of the First Semester or the start of the Second Semester.
Perhaps the only concern with the new toilets is with where they have been placed, whether there will be increased traffic, which might make it more difficult for wheelchair users and those with hidden or ambulant disabilities to access the facilities they need. “If I had a concern that’s where it would be: would it be disadvantaging people in wheelchairs who need to access those toilets.” said Nita Whelan, Head of the Student Counselling Service.
One of the gender-neutral toilets in Aungier Street has already been reverted to a purely disabled toilet after causing difficulties for a wheelchair user.
“We’re monitoring the situation, we are working with the Disability Service, and if it creates a difficulty for any student or any member of staff we’ll take action on that,” said Brian Gormley, Head of Campus Life. “We have some students and staff who would be quite dependent on them being accessible toilets”
Speaking of students who were transitioning, transgender, or nonbinary, he said “It’s a recognition of their status and of their existence”.
Roisin O’Donovan, DITSU Welfare Officer 2017/18, welcomes any questions to be emailed or directed to her. “I think it’s fantastic, I think the more questions from students asking about it helps to give it more clarity”.