London Student’s ‘Great Debate’ causes controversy

Remarks regarding gender neutral toilets published in this academic year’s first edition of the London Student, the official newspaper of ULU and Europe’s largest student newspaper, have rapidly caused outrage across the University of London’s student body.

On September 17 the LonStu published a ‘Great Debate’ piece regarding planned gender neutral toilets (that is, toilets designed to be used by people who identify as any gender, commonly found in cafés, planes, or your own house) at the London School of Economics, and the half of the spread arguing against the plans contains remarks that have offended many.

Written by Jason Wong, a second-year student of Government at the LSE, the ‘NO’ article included remarks such as ‘this ghastly game of social experiment is a ludicrous waste of money’, labelling the plans part of a ‘radical political agenda’ on ‘the slippery and dangerous path our society is treading down’, before describing the use of labels of ‘‘racist’, ‘sexist’ and ‘homophobic’’ as ‘no more than a cheap tactic by those on the Left to avoid having serious policy debates.’ He finishes the article by declaring ‘we are one of the world’s most prestigious university (sic), not some cheap strip club in the alleys of Bangkok.’

In response, Alex Peters-Day, the LSESU General Secretary, has publicly demanded an apology from the editor of the LonStu, Jen Izaakson for publishing the remarks, and for him ‘to make a public commitment to ensure that the London Student is not used as a platform for peddling hate speech’ in the future. SURHUL issued a statement the same day arguing the need for gender netural toilets, as well as directly repeating Peters-Day’s above demands.

Izaakson has since been involved in a slew of twitter debates regarding this, but at the time of the Founder  going to print has yet to issue a formal statement.

Jason Wong is no stranger to controversy. Just last year, his campaign for Treasurer of the LSE’s Bankside halls of residence caused a similar storm and even hit the national press when his campaign posters declared ‘Bankside toilet cleaners have got to be one of the best jobs out there…We’re being ripped off’, aside pictures of a woman dressed in a maid’s outfit scrubbing a toilet. He subsequently apologised for his remarks.

Such debates are not strange to RHUL, either. Last year’s refurbishment of the Students’ Union building also saw the inclusion of gender neutral toilets. SURHUL published a document explaining the decision at the time, mentioning that ‘students’ unions have always been at the forefront of liberation movements. We should be leading the way for trans inclusion. Therefore, installing gender-neutral toilets is a simple and very effective way to make a student’s union more inclusive.’

However, debates arose over women’s safety in these toilets (despite the continued existence of female-gendered toilets), and such debates were exacerbated when a 25-year old man from Englefield Green was arrested in October, just a month into the toilets’ usage, upon the allegation of ‘serious sexual assault’ against a 19-year old woman. The allegations were later dropped and the man’s bail cancelled.

RHUL Feminism Society President, Susuana Antubam, a signatory of SURHUL’s statement, had this to say: ‘As a group that proudly campaigns for gender equality,  we were disgusted by Jason Wong’s article. We were also surprised that the London Student thought that it was acceptable to pass off uneducated, dangerous and transphobic opinions as intellectual debate. We acted by writing a response in which we demanded an apology from the LonStu editor for allowing a platform for hate speech. Our statement received over 1000 hits in 24 hours.Together as students we should be advocating safe spaces; to be able to use a toilet and not be abused for your gender is a right.’

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