Everyone should have access to a toilet they are able to use safely.
However, according to Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain trans report – 48% of trans people do not feel comfortable using public toilets.
This means that many trans people, when outside their homes, are faced with a choice of using toilets where they don’t feel safe or welcome, or going home before they need to use the loo. Alternatively, they may not eat or drink all day so they don’t have to go. This situation has a huge impact on how trans, including non-binary people, navigate public space and how comfortable we feel out in the world.
In the UK, we might assume that access to basic sanitation is a given, but a UN statement on the right to sanitation on World Toilet Day reminds us that sanitation goes beyond merely access to a toilet, “Sanitation is not only about constructing toilets or sewerage. It is about understanding people’s needs and finding safe and sustainable solutions that ensure everyone’s dignity.”
It’s important to state that not all trans people have identical needs. While some people would rather use facilities designated male or female, others – particularly non-binary people – would feel far more comfortable with the option of gender-neutral facilities. Individuals whose gender expression does not conform to society’s expectations – whether trans or not – could also benefit from the option of a gender-neutral toilet.
It should go without saying that all men and women should be able to access facilities appropriate to their gender and the Equality Act 2010 gives trans women and trans men the right to do so. Employers and service providers should make sure that all employees, service users and customers are able to access appropriate facilities, without fear of harassment. The Equality Act does not explicitly mention non-binary people. Nonetheless, taking the needs of non-binary people into account is vital if you’re aiming to provide trans inclusive services in general.
The answer is architectural. We believe that a model for all new buildings should be purpose-built, single cubicle facilities that offer privacy and comfort for all, regardless of gender identity or gender expression.
We’re seeing more and more toilets designed as floor-to-ceiling cubicles, like small rooms in themselves, avoiding the potential awkwardness of partially enclosed cubicles that are standard in gendered facilities up and down the country.
However, it’s not always so easy to change older infrastructure to install these unless you’re having a general refurbishment.
A good second option is to make your accessible facilities explicitly gender neutral so that everyone knows it’s OK to use them. It’s a family-friendly step as well as inclusive of people with non-binary identities and any trans people who may simply feel safer and more comfortable in a non-gendered space.
Doing this is just a matter of re-labelling. There’s a range of gender neutral toilet signage available on the market, including braille versions.
If you are looking for a short-term solution to labelling or need to create a gender-neutral toilet for an event, you can download our printable toilet signs. We’ve seen them being used across the UK at events!
If you are going to have a refurbishment or new-build, make sure gender neutral facilities are part of the design! Thoughtful design can offer privacy, dignity and safety.
Links to useful resources
Gendered Intelligence Transforming Spaces podcast episode #1 – “Not another talk about toilets!”
Francis Ray White, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster (they/them), Cara English, founder of Open Lavs and Policy Engagement Officer & Research Coordinator at Gendered Intelligence (she/her) and Irina Korneychuk, FaulknerBrowns Architects (she/her) discuss the context of the fascination around trans people in toilets, and provide some community based and architectural solutions to the toilets challenge
Open Lavs –project mapping gender neutral toilets in the UK
Downloadable all-gender toilet signs from Gendered Intelligence.
Stalled – a US-based advocacy project working on the design, legal and educational barriers to inclusive bathrooms.