The Equality days of all Icelandic universities start today, October 9th, with an opening of an exhibition in all public toilets of the square of the University of Iceland. The exhibition is titled ‘Why do we need gender-neutral toilets?’ and consists of stories from non-binary, trans and intersex people, highlighting queer experiences of hetero-normative design, especially public restrooms.
It’s one of the queer themed events of Equality Days this year, and as Arnar Gíslason, UI Equal Opportunities Officer, points out the events handle equality on a broad spectrum and queer issues are interwoven in that concept. We started by asking Arnar to tell us about the exhibition and Equality Days in general.
“It’s the ninth year in a row we are organizing Equality Days here in the University of Iceland and this is the third year that every university in Iceland participates,” Arnar explains. “Queer equality is one of the dimensions of equality we are emphasising and this year our opening exhibition is ‘Why do we need gender-neutral toilets?’ It opens today,October 9th, at noon with a little ceremony at the University Square, where rector Jón Atli Benediktsson will give an opening talk.”
Tell us more about the exhibition, what does it consist of?
“The exhibition, which we are setting up in partnership with the Student Council Equality Committee, brings together the stories of non-binary, trans and intersex people, highlighting queer experiences of hetero-normative design, especially public restrooms. These are stories where queer people tell of their experiences, issues that come up in gender specific restrooms, the problems the lack of access to gender-neutral restrooms create, complications, anxiety etc. And on a broader spectrum the inconveniences of attending, for example, public swimming pools, gyms and many other places. We found it appropriate to emphasize this issue now and make it the opening event of Equality Days 2017.”
“The exhibition … brings together the stories of non-binary, trans and intersex people, highlighting queer experiences of hetero-normative design, especially public restrooms.”
Are there gender neutral restrooms in all the buildings of the University?
“No, not yet. It’s a work in progress and will take some time. There are gender neutral toilets in some of the newer buildings and the plan is to change the others bit by bit, e.g. when toilets are renovated and when new buildings arise, such as Veröld – Hús Vigdísar, the latest addition, that will actually have most of its toilets gender-neutral” So I would say that we are aware of this problem and aim to correct it, but it always takes time to turn the ship around, as you know.”
Are matters on queer equality less prominent this year than they have been for the last few years?
“Yes, it changes from one year to the next, depending on the people who take part and where their emphasis lies. There were more queer focussed events last year, but they are not forgotten this year, for example Q, the queer students association, have a brief lecture on queer issues on October 11th and many events handle equality on a broad spectrum that covers queer equality too. It’s always been our goal to intertwine the different aspects of equality rather than isolate them one by one, that is to work along the lines of intersectionality.”
And gender neutral toilets are a part of that?
“Yes. As I said people don’t always realise why things are important and necessary and some people think the discussion about gender neutral toilets is perhaps not important. This is our way to make the reality of queer people in gender specific circumstances more visible for non-queer people and what place is better for that than the toilets. Where people who have the privilege of simply going to the toilet without having to think about it have time to read those stories and get an insight into queer people’s reality.”
“This is our way to make the reality of queer people in gender specific circumstances more visible for non-queer people and what place is better for that than the toilets.”
Are there recorded numbers for how many queer students attend the University of Iceland?
“No, such numbers don’t exist. We don’t register this information. Also, there is not really a consensus on the proportion of society that is queer, or how to define or what research questions to use. Some research use a definition based on sexual behavior, which is limiting. The definitions of gender and discussions are changing rapidly, and I feel that younger people are taking a lot of control over how they define themselves in this respect, which I think is a great development.”
Equality Days run from October 9th – 20th and the exhibition will be open during all those days. All the events of Equality Days are open to the public and free of charge.