New College JCR is expected to continue debating whether to ask college to refurbish all gendered bathrooms into single, gender-neutral toilets. An earlier motion, which the MCR unanimously voted to support, was narrowly voted down in the JCR last week after lengthy discussion.
Last week’s motion, which had been put forward by Rose Laurie and Oliver Smith, raised the point that “gendered toilets are considered exclusionary for non-binary and gender non-conforming people, and also create considerable anxiety and the risk of harm for trans people”.
On a motion concerning the facilities of the whole college the assent of both the JCR and the MCR would have been required for any changes to be made. The motion passed unanimously in the MCR last Sunday with 23 votes after a period of discussion. However the motion had a mixed reception in the JCR, with some JCR members feeling the motion did not go far enough, and others very concerned about the way the motion could impact other groups.
The motion was rejected by 52 votes to 47, with 36 abstentions. An amended motion was proposed but this also failed to pass.
JCR and MCR LGBTQ+ reps are now considering how to address this, with the expectation being that an amended motion will be brought to the JCR.
JCR members in particular raised concerns as to what would happen with interim changes in signs, as the motion had requested that there should be immediate sign changes to some of the main bathrooms on the college site, with the MCR building men’s toilet and Long Room men’s toilet signs being replaced with signs saying “All-Gender toilets”.
The sign changes would be a temporary measure before the college refurbished the bathrooms into single,
The authors of the motion raised the point that Oxford’s Equality and Diversity Unit makes eight recommendations to improve trans rights on its website, one of which is to provide gender-neutral bathrooms where possible. They state: “The University recommends that the provision of some gender-neutral facilities is considered in every new build and refurbishment. Ideally these should include single cubicle gender neutral toilets, with integrated washing facilities and floor to ceiling doors.”
The motion argued that: “Making all New College bathrooms gender neutral will send the signal that trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students, staff, and visitors are welcome at New College and that we as a community respect their basic needs, their human dignity, and their valuable contributions to our communities.
“Attending to the needs of one marginalised group within New College should not come at the cost of another marginalised group.
“Until adequate gender-neutral facilities can be constructed, some (self-identifying) women-only toilets should remain.
“Having had conversations with college, we believe that asking for the refurbishment of all gendered New College bathrooms before the beginning of the 2024/25 academic year does not pose undue demands on college budget, and will allow for these changes to be integrated into short-term and middle-term maintenance works the college plans to undertake.”
The motion had to be amended significantly to ensure that women-only bathrooms could still be available to visitors. Originally, these were to be in the Sacher building, which is only accessible to students who have Bod Cards, and concerns were raised by members of the JCR about how this could affect visitors to the college.
In the JCR meeting it was pointed out that it was important to ensure that “groups which are particularly likely to require a women’s only place for religious or cultural reasons, considering groups like the Muslim Schools which visit on access programmes such as Step Up, have access to the Long Room toilets and not the Sacher toilets.”
Another issue raised was that “it is not desirable to give more people access to a building where people live simply to use a bathroom that could easily be located elsewhere. While there are already some problems with this elsewhere in college, it is not desirable to amplify the problem.
“There are also less options for third and fourth year accommodation, so if students wish to live in a space without general Bodcard access, it would be much harder to do so.”
Rose Laurie, JCR LGBTQ+ rep, said: “I’m very pleased that the MCR has got a motion passed as this is an important step forward. It is clear New College JCR rejects motion to make all bathrooms gender-neutral from the way that the JCR voted that there are still many disagreements and we need to work to find a compromise on the labelling of the college bathrooms, but in the meantime we hope to get college to commit to refurbishing all bathrooms by 2024/2025.”
Moritz Reithmayr, MCR LGBTQ+ rep, said: “As the MCR LGBTQ+ Reps, Giulia and I are delighted about how convincingly our motion passed. We hope that this will prove an important milestone toward making New College more inclusive and transforming all New College bathrooms into individual gender-neutral toilets with integrated washing facilities.
“As the next step, we are hoping to gain JCR support before we enter into further talks with New College administration. We have seen more and more colleges become more trans-inclusive in their bathroom design over the recent years, and we hope that New College will institute similar progressive changes.”
In Michaelmas, the New College JCR voted in favour of changing the signing for the Long Room and Sacher Building toilets to make them gender-neutral. The MCR never voted on this motion, but concerns were raised informally in an MCR discussion, including about how the motion might affect women, and so ultimately no change was made at this time.
Currently, twelve Oxford colleges have primarily or entirely gender-neutral toilets. These include Hertford, Balliol, St Benet’s Hall, St John’s, St Hugh’s, St Catherine’s, St Hilda’s and Somerville.