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Bathroom art protest taken to the Max

The lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in one MacEwan University building inspired a local artist to create an artistic protest, one that's already resulted in change

Max Quilliam says he likes to talk about bathrooms a lot. Now, he knows how to turn them into making a political statement and it’s one that is getting people talking, too.

The MacEwan University student used the institution’s Pride Week to protest the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in Allard Hall by posting several large recreations of the ‘Men’s bathroom’ symbol next to each set of paired and gendered bathrooms in the building. Each one was patchworked with pieces of fabric containing statements about the need for unisex facilities from dozens of students, and right at the top was the phrase, “We deserve to be here / We deserve to pee here” written across that big round head.

The post-secondary student and St. Albert resident describes himself as an artist/activist and is currently one of the Youth Artist nominees for this year’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Awards.

To him, the situation makes no sense.

“It’s confusing … especially because the old arts campus before they had Allard Hall also had gender-neutral washrooms,” he said. “I was surprised by that.”

Only Allard Hall and the Robbins Health Learning Centre lack gender-neutral bathrooms on the MacEwan campus, while the others have been retrofitted to transition their facilities to accommodate modern sensibilities.

“I find that even in doing this project – where I collected responses from about 70 people on why they feel that gender-neutral washrooms are important – we had not only LGBT people responding but people who said, ‘it’s easier for me as someone with a disability when I need privacy for using the washroom’ or people who have a child of a different gender, like as a parent, that can be a much easier space to navigate when you have gender-neutral washrooms. There’s a lot of different reasons why they're important.”

He accomplished the creation and setup of the art protest with the help of fellow student Ana Smith. MacEwan didn’t permit the displays beforehand, but Quilliam said they made sure to go around and approve them after the fact, much to his relief.

“When I’m able to make art about issues that concern me, it’s just me feeling that I’m doing what I feel is right. In this case, this is like maybe it’s just something that MacEwan missed or something that they didn’t think on. I want them to be aware that that's a mistake they made and that's something that they need to work on. And I like to do it in an esthetically pleasing way.”

In an interesting twist to the story, school officials discovered there actually is a single gender-neutral bathroom in Allard Hall. The only problem with it is that it’s located behind the theatre so it isn’t accessible to the public.

MacEwan University spokesperson David Beharry said staff members are working to improve signage and access to that facility.

“We acknowledge that we need to add more gender-neutral washrooms on campus, and we are taking steps to do better ... to ensure everyone feels safe, secure and comfortable,” he said, adding there currently isn’t a satisfactory location for a gender-neutral washroom in the Robbins Health Learning Centre.

Quilliam removed the artworks at the end of day on Friday, the last day of the institution’s official Pride Week.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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