Wits University has confirmed that it will start to roll out a number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
The news was announced in a statement on Tuesday by Prof. Tawana Kupe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Advancement, HR and Transformation.
He said the move aimed to cater to “all members of the community who are Trans* gender, non-conforming or not comfortable with entering a bathroom that identifies with the gender that they were assigned at birth.”
Kupe stated that, “key bathrooms across our campuses have been identified as Gender Neutral Bathrooms and the signage for these bathrooms will be changed shortly.”
He added: “We believe that Gender Neutral Bathrooms make a meaningful contribution to the University’s transformation agenda and that shared facilities, inclusive of all members of the University community, are one of the ways in which we can embrace diversity across gender lines.”
Fumani Mabogoane, President of campus LGBTQIA+ student organisation Activate, told Mambaonline that “we are very happy that this is finally happening.”
He said that, led by the Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office, Activate and the group Ctrl Alt Gender had lobbied for the move since around 2014.
Mabogoane explained that while trans students can already make use of the male or female bathrooms they identify with at Wits, some gender non-confirming students may not feel safe or comfortable using one of the two traditional gender options.
“We need to be aware that some people may not identify as one of the gender binaries and don’t feel comfortable with either or,” he said.
Tish White from the Transformation and Employment Equity Office said that under Wits’ anti discrimination policy, “If someone is gender variant or gender non-conforming they should be permitted to use whichever toilet that they feel comfortable with.”
The issue of gender and bathroom use has been in the headlines of late thanks to efforts by some American states, such as North Carolina, to bar trans students from using the facilities of their choice.
Critics claim that allowing them to do so could lead to sexual predators using such polices to target women and children. Activists point out, however, that no such cases have been reported and argue that this “trans bathroom panic” is simply based on bigotry and ignorance.