Advocacy group’s open letter starts debate over security cameras in gender-neutral facilities on campus

Queer student group demands Concordia removes security cameras in gender-neutral bathrooms. Photo by Lily Cowper / The Concordian

Concordia’s gender advocacy group has garnered a lot of support online and is looking to make a tangible impact on campus

On Nov. 1, independent 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy group, ConU Against Gender&Queer Violence (CAGQV), initiated an open letter to remove security cameras installed in gender-neutral washrooms across Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. Multiple queer student organizations have since given their support to the CAGQV’s open letter. However, certain members are not in accordance with the removal of security cameras.

The group, which began as an Instagram page, believes that the presence of security cameras in gender-neutral washrooms compromises the safe environment these spaces could provide. In a statement released on their social media, the advocates argue that such surveillance perpetuates anti-trans rhetoric and violates student privacy. 

Steve Kalaydjian, Concordia student and member of CAGQV spoke on the inappropriateness of the measure. “The fact that people are, you know, surveying what could happen implies that some are assuming something inappropriate could happen, which is simply not the case.”

Clara Belzile, Concordia student and member of CAGQV, claimed that no empirical evidence supported the installation of security cameras in these washrooms. They believe the lack of cameras in gendered bathrooms are indicative of biases against certain users with queer identities. 

The advocacy group has proposed a list of demands pertaining to accessibility and usability of gender-neutral bathrooms and certain other facilities across campus. The demands include installing disposal bins for menstrual products in inclusive bathrooms, gender-neutral washroom signage and gender-neutral changing rooms. 

“When it comes to creating a safe space, other universities in the greater Montreal area have done it,” Kalaydijan said.

The open letter is currently posted on the group’s social media for those who wish to support their efforts. Kalaydjian said group members are willing to discuss matters further with student groups and Concordia’s administration.  

“The idea was that this could reassure certain people who may not be comfortable using that space [gender-neutral washrooms].” said Darren Dumoulin, director of Campus Safety and Prevention Services. “I don’t want to give people the impression that somebody’s sitting there and watching. That’s not what’s happening.”

Dumoulin sympathizes with members of CAGQV, he stated that the intention behind the cameras was rooted in prevention above anything else and isn’t meant to render certain groups on campus uncomfortable. He referred to an incident which occurred in a gender-neutral bathroom at the Hive Cafe involving a male student photographing students without their consent. This would set the precedent for the installation of security cameras in inclusive washrooms. 

However, there haven’t been any outstanding incidents since the construction of gender-neutral facilities. Dumoulin claimed that there is no assured way to say if the security cameras are in fact a preventative factor. 
According to Genevieve Leblanc, administrative coordinator of Queer Concordia, members of their group collectively agree with the CAGQV advocacy group’s demands, but not the removal of security cameras. Otherwise, member opinions are split.

“I fully believe it’s really a question of safety, to implement a balance since everyone can go in there,” Leblanc said. “I think the school put them there just to prevent something bad, not to hurt any student.”

If any student wishes to air their grievances with gender-neutral facilities, Dumoulin recommends attending meetings of the recently established Campus Safety Advisory Group. Group meetings are attended by members of various student associations along with the Concordia Student Union (CSU).

“If there’s anything to be said, we’re open to having a discussion around it. I don’t want people to think that it’s a done deal, or it’s closed. Seeing what can be done or explaining what and how it’s being used—it’s really important,” Dumoulin said.

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