Content warning: transphobia
A student was forcibly removed from The Big Cheese at Potterrow for using a bathroom that did not match their presumed gender, on the night of 25 February.
The student, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke exclusively to The Student about their experience, saying that the security staff responsible for removing them “started to bust down the door while I was inside” the bathroom stall.
The student also recalled that when they protested their removal from the bathroom, they spoke to three different employees of The Big Cheese, who cited Scottish licensing regulations as the reasons for the student’s ejection from the bathroom, and ultimately from the venue itself.
“I don’t fully know the rules of EUSA [The Edinburgh University Students’ Association], but I would expect that they should be an inclusive space. They are proponents of safe spaces and clearly that wasn’t the case at the time,” said the student.
“People definitely identify as other genders than what they were assigned at birth and they clearly have [these] issues and it’s just not alright. It’s university, you should feel safe, you should feel included, and if they’re excluding people than clearly something’s wrong,” they continued.
Jenna Kelly, Vice President of Services for the Students’ Association, confirmed that, while the Association supports an inclusive bathroom policy, Scottish Licensing Law supposedly makes carrying out such a policy difficult.
“The Students’ Association policy as a whole, is that we believe that our members should be able to use whatever bathroom feels most comfortable to them, Licensing Law however does not facilitate that approach,” Kelly told The Student.
“Scottish Licensing law specifies the number of toilets that need to be available per person in a licensed venue. The capacity of The Big Cheese is based on how many toilets we have available, but those toilets need to be gendered in order to count under licensing law,” Kelly explained.
However Kelly’s assertions about licensing regulations were questioned by Vic Valentine, Policy Officer for the Scottish Transgender Alliance, who commented to The Student that: “We are not aware of any licensing or zoning requirements that specify which set of gendered toilet facilities someone is able to use.
“What definitely is covered by law though, is a trans person’s right to be protected from discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.
These protections are provided in the Equality Act 2010, and include protection from harassment on the grounds of being transgender,” Valentine said.
The Student also spoke to Kai O’Doherty, Convener for the Students’ Association’s LGBT+ Liberation Group on campus. O’Doherty expressed their disapproval of the situation which arose last Saturday in no uncertain terms, saying: “as the LGBT+ Liberation Convenor, and as a trans person tired of issues of gender policing in bathrooms, I was shocked and upset to hear about this incident happening at a Students’ Association event.”
O’Doherty also confirmed that they planned on taking significant actions to prevent this issue from reoccurring for students in the future.
“Following this incident, I have met with Student Association staff to discuss training for staff (including security) on trans sensitivity, more inclusive signage, and other proactive measures to combat gender policing,” O’Doherty said.
They also wished to express their support for all transgender and non-binary students on campus, saying: “My thoughts and solidarity go out to the person who experienced this on Saturday, and to all other people who have to endure similar realities on a daily basis.
“For any trans and non-binary students who feel shaken by this incident: know that I support you, that the LGBT+ Liberation group is here for you, and please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any other concerns,” O’Doherty said.
Valentine also wished to send a message of solidarity to young transgender students in Scotland, and to discuss the greater issues which surrounds gendered bathrooms and exclusive cisnormative culture in Scotland.
“We live in a society which has many gendered spaces, and toilets are perhaps the most obvious example of this. It is really upsetting for a trans person to feel like they aren’t able to use the toilet which they feel the most comfortable in – it essentially forces someone to deny a really important part of themselves,” Valentine told The Student.
The Scottish Transgender Alliance published a survey last year with a sample group of over 200 transgender and non binary individuals living in Scotland. The survey reported that 60 per cent of respondents had experienced issues accessing the bathroom which matched their gender identity in privately licensed venues, with 40 per cent of those respondents reporting that they had experienced these issues multiple times.
Some comments from respondents to the survey included sentiments such as “not being able or highly unwilling to use the toilets in a pub or bar is a big problem […] it makes going out with friends stressful, and more than once I have been utterly miserable because there were no toilets I could use.”
“[I] have left venues early when needing the toilet, sometimes just from judging the atmosphere and deciding the toilet wouldn’t be safe, or not wanting to risk going in and there only being urinals,” commented another respondent.
Speaking to The Student about the survey’s findings, Valentine commented: “It is totally unacceptable that trans people have to face such difficulties simply to be able to use a bathroom when on a night out.
“That’s why we think it is so important for more venues to have training around this and other issues facing trans customers so they are able to be more welcoming of trans people,” they concluded.
Image Credit: amboo who