Students hope for more more gender neutral options in rec center
By Max Brunt
People who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth can often be placed in a dilemma when forced to choose between entering a male or female restroom or changing room.
The Wade King Student Recreation Center provides a family/gender-neutral changing area next to the larger locker rooms students can use if they don’t feel comfortable in either of them.
The family changing area is used by individuals on a regular basis, Bob Hofstetter, associate director of facilities and operations at the rec center, said.
“Some students have even rented lockers in that area,” Hofstetter said.
However, while the family changing room is an option, some transgender or gender nonconforming people and advocates at Western think it’s far from perfect.
“A lot of the time they don’t even want to go to the gym, because it’s so hard to find a space they feel is inclusive and safe. Most of the time you’re going to ultimately have to choose between either the men’s or the women’s locker room, and that can be really intimidating, uncomfortable.”
Alberto Rodriguez-Escobedo, assistant coordinator for community programming at the Queer Resource Center
Its entrance is directly adjacent to the basketball court, which can be a discouraging factor for an individual to use it, said Alberto Rodriguez-Escobedo, the assistant coordinator for community programming at the Queer Resource Center.
“If you’re someone who may not be visibly passing to the extent that other people see you as, and you go into that space, there’s an eyebrow raise,” Rodriguez-Escobedo said. “It’s like, ‘Why are you going into the family changing room? You’re one individual.’”
It’s then an uncomfortable experience exiting and re-entering the changing room when you work out, he said.
“You’re constantly having to migrate through the basketball court,” Rodriguez-Escobedo said. “It’s not as centralized as the way that the men’s and the women’s changing rooms are, which are off to the side, and a lot more protective in that sense.”
Sometimes non-binary identifying students would rather use a binary changing room they’re not comfortable in than the gender-neutral one, said Ari Koontz, president of TAG Team, a club for transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
“A lot of the time they don’t even want to go to the gym, because it’s so hard to find a space they feel is inclusive and safe,” Koontz said. “Most of the time you’re going to ultimately have to choose between either the men’s or the women’s locker room, and that can be really intimidating, uncomfortable. It can make people feel unsafe.”
Trans and non-binary Western students have made it clear that gender-neutral accessibility to athletic facilities is important. There was a successful push for the inclusion of a gender-inclusive changing room during the construction of the current Sam Carver Gymnasium facility, Rodriguez-Escobedo said.
However, the facilities at the rec center are more accessible to most Western students than those at Carver Gym, which begs the question if a larger gender-inclusive changing space is needed at the rec center, Rodriguez-Escobedo said. The current space is nowhere near as large as the binary options.
Hofstetter said there have been suggestions for a larger family/gender-neutral changing space from families who use it for swim lessons. A rule is currently in place that asks parents or guardians not to bring children into locker rooms of the opposite gender. It was put in place at both student and faculty request, Hofstetter said.