Guide to gender neutral bathrooms

Front cover of Creating Bathroom Accessibility & Gender Inclusive Society.Gender neutral bathrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. A guide to gender neutral bathrooms is a great help. 

The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide challenges current ideas. For example, is it really necessary to have male and female toilets? The guide discusses the issues and provides solutions. 

Other minority groups face bathroom discrimination. Gender inclusive bathrooms benefit people with disability and older people with carers. Parents with small children also have difficulty finding suitable toilets.

A new approach

Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth Felicella
Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth Felicella

Gender-neutral bathrooms have sparked many public debates in the US, however, in Australia, this is still a fairly new concept.  We are familiar with unisex accessible sanitary facilities that provide a space that allows carers and users of any gender.  Yet, the public services’ push towards gender neutral bathrooms to foster inclusiveness of transgender and intersex employees are causing debate in its Canberra buildings.

The National Construction Code in Australia only recognises the provision of male and female sanitary compartments. Perhaps universal design will provide the solution that architects are looking for:

“Because public bathrooms need to be designated male or female, it forces transgender and nonconforming individuals to choose between the two, sometimes leading them into uncomfortable or unsafe situations. The code leaves architects with a choice, too: take the easy route and design single and multi-occupancy bathrooms labelled “male” or “female,” or design around the code–the latter of which often takes more creativity and resources.”

All gender bathrooms – embracing change

An academic paper discusses the “why” from the perspective of university staff and students and their restroom needs on campus. Thoughtful design gives a person a sense of security and belonging. Floor plans included. The title of the paper is, All-gender Restrooms: Embracing change in the built environment. Time for building codes to catch up.

Transgender, recreation and inclusion

10 balloons of different colours float on the surface of a swimming pool. Transgender recreation and inclusion..People who identify as transgender are often concerned about their safety in public recreation situations. Dreaming About Access: The Experiences of Transgender Individuals in Public Recreation is a report of the qualitative research undertaken by Linda Oakleaf and Laurel P. Richmond. Designing for the inclusion of people who identify as transgender is not just about participation. It also affirms their worth and dignity. At the end of the executive summary they say,

“Practitioners who wish to translate data from this study into policy should focus on two areas: removing barriers to access, and affirmatively encouraging participation. The barriers discussed most often by participants related to public/private spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers.

Practitioners should ensure that all locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers allow for privacy. As is frequently the case with  universal design, this will benefit many users who are not transgender. While the best practice would be to provide gender neutral spaces, at a minimum there should be at least one stall with a door in each bathroom and curtains or other barriers in all showers. Policies and procedures should affirmatively include participants across the gender spectrum and should be aimed at increasing participation.”

More on public bathrooms

A toilet sign with three icons: one indicating female, one male, and one both. The words are we don't care - just wash your hands.The latest access consultants’ newsletter has a focus on bathrooms in different settings as well as continence problems.  

There’s also a discussion on the best terminology for labelling public toilets. Gender neutral was a term coined a while back, but there are new thoughts. Many people who identify as transgender or intersex feel unsafe in public toilets. A survey in the US found more than half avoided public bathrooms and use strategies like not drinking. Access the newsletter can be online through issuu, or downloaded in a 9MB PDF file

Bottom line – should we have any toilets designated and signed by gender or should they just be toilets?  As the sign says – Who cares? Just wash your hands.

Sign for a gender neutral toiletLee Wilson also covers some of the issues related to public toilets. He says, “Gender neutral toilets cater for people who for many reasons feel uncomfortable using a toilet that is designated as either male, female or unisex. In the future, we will see an increase in these amenities”.  

Katherine Webber did an international study on toilets and toilet needs and behaviour. She links it to social and economic participation. 

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