Vancouver park board to consider unisex washrooms

Park board commissioner Trevor Loke (left) and Drew Dennis (right) at the Second Beach pool. They are lobbying for unisex or universally accessible washrooms in public spaces in Vancouver, as well as special swim times at public pools for the transgender and gender-variant community.

Vancouver parks and pools may soon see unisex washrooms.

The model of separate men’s and ladies’ rooms doesn’t suit many in the transgender and gender-variant communities, so park board commissioner Trevor Loke has floated the idea of changing washroom configurations, signage and some pool programming to suit this community and others.

Loke, who is the parks board liaison with Vancouver’s LGBTQ committee, will be putting forth a motion at the board meeting Monday evening to explore how Vancouver can become the world’s most inclusive jurisdiction for transgender and gender-variant communities.

If approved, a working group would be struck to consult with the community and report back to the park board by April 1 of next year.

Loke said he’s had positive feedback from other commissioners and park board staff.

At the age of 22, he became the youngest elected official in Vancouver history when he won a seat on the park board in November of 2011. Since then, he says he has learned from the trans- and gender-variant communities about barriers they face when trying to access public recreation spaces.

“The most common one is around washrooms,” he explained. “When somebody is trans, goes into a washroom, and it doesn’t matter which one they go into, they are not made to feel welcome in either.” He added, “There have been instances of both verbal and physical harassment.”

Drew Dennis, who identifies as transgender and is a member of the city’s LGBTQ committee, has experienced this firsthand. The problem appears to be universal. While visiting Barcelona, Dennis, needing to use a washroom, went into one reserved for people with disabilities, only to be severely berated by someone outside for being able-bodied and using the facility.

“It’s an incredible step forward that the city and the parks board are looking at how they can make parks and recreational facilities a welcoming space for everyone in our city,” said Dennis, who was born female but doesn’t identify as either male or female. Having had chest surgery a decade ago, Dennis wears men’s swim trunks when visiting public pools. But having elected not to take male hormones, the transition was never complete.