Gender Neutral Toilets in Bristol – What the City of Bristol Needs More Of

Gender Neutral Toilets – Why it’s about time people admitted their bigotry and embraced convenience 

This is an opinion piece, because after suffering the comments dropping through a Facebook news article yesterday about gender neutral toilets in the UK, I’m having a Vesuvius moment. I feel I could literally explode should one more person use unfounded rape fear or the smell of urine for Good Reasons not to let large swathes of society access a toilet.

Yesterday, some randomer on the internet accused me of putting my children at-risk because I allow them to use gender neutral toilets. This wasn’t our own gender neutral toilet at home. Or the one we use on the train. It wasn’t a gender neutral toilet at a festival or on a coach, in school, at a coffee house or an access (disabled) toilet. It was gender neutral toilets at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI). That’s right, those well known rape toilets at the biggest hospital in the South West.

A Compendium of Ridiculous Facebook Comments from Yesterday:

Statistics show that around 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year. A ten per cent of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’ with the majority – 90 per cent – committed by someone previously trusted by the victim.

I do not use rape in a light way, but it is one of the most common words that crops up throughout disagreement regarding gender neutral toilets. Perhaps it’s really to hide transphobia, because that is what it boils down to. And, if not transphobia, it is a bloody minded way of refusing to empathise with anyone else who may have needs different to their own, in short, selfishness.

Here are the gender neutral toilets I so recklessly let my children use at the BRI in Bristol. The toilets are usually clean with no smell of urine. They are fully enclosed with a door from ceiling to floor. They include hand basin and hand dryer. There is nowhere for lurking rapists to hide, yet plenty of room for parents to assist younger children.

Gender neutral toilets benefit so many people in society. Here’s some of the reasons I can think of from personal experience and working life:

A mum needing to access a toilet with a son
A dad needing to access a toilet with a daughter
A person with a disability for whom an accessible toilet is not available
A carer with a person of the opposite gender who needs the toilet
Transgender persons

Having also worked in education, I’ve been really impressed how new-build schools have adopted gender neutral toilets into their designs. I have also read many discussions online about the horrors inflicted on primary school children who have to use gender neutral toilets at school.

I have seen several schools with gender neutral toilets and worked at them. They are open plan and have cubicles with doors and sinks outside. They remove bullying, poor behaviour and intimidation caused by children congregating. Children don’t skive or get up to no good. They are safe and about as clean as primary school toilets can be.

I’ve also seen them work well in secondary schools. St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School has them. They are enclosed floor to ceiling with handwashing facilities outside. The space is totally open and there is nowhere to hide or cause trouble.

Another frequent comment that crops up is that access toilets are gender neutral. Yes they are and they also work well. But people without disabilities argue that it is their right to use them, even if they don’t actually need them. Send the transgender people in there, they cry.

No. Access toilets are not there for anyone to use. They are there as a legally required reasonable adjustment for people who have difficulties, needs or disabilities. They are not there for people who cannot be bothered to wait or queue, which is why most have Radar keys. Yes of course transgender people may use them if they are fearful of using gender toilets, but this should not be seen as a default simply because of intolerance by others.

Of all the ‘perve’ and ‘rape’ comments I’ve read, the one that sticks in my mind as the most horrific is from the woman on the Independent’s Facebook page who is horrified that men might see her washing out her Mooncup in communal sinks. She thinks we should retain ladies toilets so she can carry on doing this.

A Mooncup is a cup which sits in a woman’s vagina and collects menstrual blood and the lining of the womb. She really needs to be aware that no one, no one of any gender, no one of any persuasion wants to see her blood and clots from her uterus being splashed around the sink.

Another woman is mortified that she might be having a period at the same time a man is using the next cubicle. She doesn’t elaborate on why this is a problem or how the man would know and in what way this would affect her. I have read other comments that women don’t want men to hear to rustle of sanitary towels being changed.

Having a period is just not a good enough reason to continue to marginalise sections of society. As for the woman who was too scared to send her 12 year old daughter into the ladies on her own, it just beggars belief how people with these views manage to function in society.

If, instead of instilling fear into our children, we simply began to embrace the freedoms that removing rigid gender restrictions and stereotyping would create, society will in time become more accepting. It is simply unacceptable that in 2018, there are people who still cannot reasonably and safely access a toilet due to prejudice and unfounded fear. That needs to change.

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