Peeping Toms lead college to reconsider gender-neutral bathrooms

by Michael Foust |

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California September 30, 2014. The University of California will designate gender-neutral restrooms at its 10 campuses to accommodate transgender students, in a move that may be the first of its kind for a system of colleges in the United States. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

TORONTO (Christian Examiner) – A Canadian college that set up gender-neutral bathrooms in its dorms got a dose of reality recently when two women were videotaped by Peeping Toms – something critics have long warned would happen.

The incidents at the University of Toronto's Whitney Hall took place Sept. 15 and 19 and have led to the school reconsidering its policies.

"Both victims (women) claimed seeing a cellphone reach over while they were in the shower," Constable Victor Kwong of the Toronto Police told The Varsity student newspaper.

The person who did the recording has not been caught.

There are two types of gender-neutral bathrooms in the ongoing debate over transgenderism. The first type includes single-user bathrooms, where only one person at a time can use the facility. The second type involves a large room with multiple toilets or showers where men and women can come and go as they please. It is this second type that was used at Whitney Hall.

Opponents say gender-neutral restrooms provide twisted male minds easier access to women in compromising situations. Thirty years ago, a male hanging around a women's restroom would have been reason to call the police. But gender-neutral bathrooms give such men the protection of the law – all in the name of diversity, critics say.

Whitney Hall and four other dorms have changed their gender-neutral policies.

"Given the serious nature of these incidents and the impact on directly affected students, we made the decision to specifically designate some washrooms throughout the building for those who identify as men and those who identify as women," Melinda Scott, dean of students at the University of Toronto's University College, told The Varsity. "At the same time, there remains at least one gender-neutral washroom per floor and per house."

The change may not be permanent.

"The purpose of this temporary measure is to provide a safe space for the women who have been directly impacted by these events and other students who may feel more comfortable in a single gender washroom in the wake of these incidents," Scott said. "We do not expect the designation of these washrooms alone to resolve this matter; it is a complex situation that requires a multi-layered approach."

Some students were shocked. Among them: Melissa Birch, a first-year student who expressed frustration that there "are going to be people that don't feel safe in Whitney now, and that we can't have an inclusive environment."

Although conservative groups have been outspoken in their opposition to gender-neutral restrooms, they aren't alone. An editorial at the college life website SoCawlege.com made a practical argument against such bathrooms.

"To be crass for a moment – students spend time naked or exposed in dorm bathrooms across America," it read. "Whether it be stalls, showers, or whatever else, there will be plenty of opportunity, intentionally or otherwise, for students' privacy to be violated by the opposite sex in community bathrooms."

Further, the editorial argued, gender-neutral restrooms can open women up to violent encounters.

"As a simple example, ask yourself, if a female student passes out at 3 a.m. in a bathroom stall [from drinking], would you prefer another female find her, or have it be a coin flip whether the next person coming through that door is a male or female? Personally, I would prefer another female student find her, as opposed to a potentially intoxicated male," it read. "Herein lies the biggest danger with gender neutral bathrooms – a potential for more sexual assault, and certainly more sexual harassment."

The editorial was titled, "The Case Against Fully Shifting To Gender Neutral Bathrooms."

It concluded, "Simply opposing gender neutral bathrooms does not make you mean, "transphobic," hateful, or whatever other character assassination may be thrown my way, and more importantly, thrown at students who are uncomfortable with this movement and are being labeled with insults in retaliation."