In 2015, Dawson became the first CEGEP to introduce gender neutral washrooms in its campus; however, Julien Johnson, the student who pioneered this project, has yet to receive recognition or compensation from the college for his work.
Julien Johnson, a second-year student at Concordia University and a newly hired employee at Project 10, a Montreal LGBT youth center, was an Arts and Culture student at Dawson from 2012 to 2016. It was during his first year that he mentioned to the all-women slate running for the Dawson Student Union (DSU) at the time that they should add the installation of gender neutral washrooms to their list of campaign promises. After their election, he began working on the project.
For the next 3 years, Johnson would fight for the installation of gender neutral washrooms. “As a trans person, I could not go to the bathroom anywhere” he explained to Dawson’s administrators that transgendered and non-binary students felt unsafe using gendered washrooms. He then created a proposal outlining specific placements for these washrooms, suggestions for signage, as well as various reasons these washrooms were necessary.
Dawson’s administration, however, did not immediately understand its importance. He was given a very hard time throughout the deliberation process. Many thought the bathrooms would be solely for trans and non-binary students. Others thought that cisgendered students and teachers might feel “unsafe” sharing a bathroom with trans students, a common stigma trans people face when fighting for gender-neutral washrooms. General lack of understanding and often blatant transphobia permeated his battle for his and other students’ rights.
It was at the beginning of 2015, following his election as an executive of the DSU, that the washrooms were finally installed.
However, the administration did not follow Johnson’s original proposal. To begin, he did not want the washrooms to be located in the busiest area on the 2nd floor. He had also proposed various signs for the washrooms, none of which were used. “Part of getting these bathrooms is trying to get people to acknowledge that gender goes beyond the binary,” Johnson states. A sign with a man and woman on it therefore opposes that idea.
He also suggested having multi-stall washrooms without urinals, as he explains that there is a certain amount of tension that comes with visibly waiting to use a stall rather than a urinal as a trans person. Urinals being a necessity according to the administration’s standards also limits the amount of bathrooms that can be changed to gender neutral washrooms.
The addition of gender neutral washrooms is undoubtedly a step towards ensuring that trans and non-binary students’ needs are met. Despite this, Johnson expresses his discontent with the “martyrdom” needed to realize this project. Not only was he forced to constantly out himself as trans publicly (without being out to his family at the time), he also felt that he had to repeatedly express pain in order to simply be heard. He was also constantly misgendered and disrespected by many administrators during the entire deliberation process.
To make matters worse, he never received any public recognition for his work. “I don’t see how [Dawson’s administration] can not feel bad for stopping me from reaching my goal for so long, then allowing me to reach my goal, and then taking all the credit for it,” said Johnson.
Though he explains that his goal was never to be praised, he would appreciate Dawson’s administration crediting him rather than passing it off as their own idea. He also explains that Dawson’s image was improved by the addition of these washrooms, increasing trans and non-binary student enrollment. “It’s not like I want a plaque or anything. I would, however, have appreciated having it on my transcripts to get into university. I would appreciate being able to use Dawson as a reference for any job I apply for.”
Raymond Boucher, Director of Student Services, comments: “If I missed the boat [on thanking Julien for his work] completely, then I would apologize to the person.” Nicholas Harvest, the DSU’s student advocacy coordinator, certainly feels that Dawson did indeed “miss the boat”.
It is time for Dawson’s administration to set the story straight.