Times article by Kelli Neale 26.6.18
The original text is here.
Gender‑neutral toilets: My daughter was called selfish for wanting girls‑only loos at school
Pressure has been steadily growing over the past few years for single-sex toilets and changing rooms to be banned nationwide. Mental health is a driving force behind this movement — removing the black-and-white nature of gender segregation would help those who are gender-fluid, gender-querying or don’t identify with any gender at all.
However, yesterday ministers announced that they had “no intention” of changing laws that allow for single-sex toilets and changing rooms. And this means that whether a shop or cinema has unisex or single-sex facilities remains at its discretion.
For me this story has a particular, personal resonance. Last September my daughter came home from her co-ed school crying. “Oh no,” she said. “They’ve made the toilets unisex.”
“What, all of them?”
“Are you sure?”
Cue eye-roll, then: “Of course I’m sure.”
“But why?” I asked.
She told me that it was to cater for transgender or transitioning children. And rather than just make a couple of toilets unisex (I had no idea how many transgender pupils there were in her school), the school changed the lot. My daughter told me that other girls in the school felt equally outraged and I wasn’t surprised. I dislike unisex toilets even as an adult, but imagine being a teenage girl having to open a sanitary towel or tampon with a boy in the cubicle next door. No, no and no. Girls need privacy.
I researched online. I read that the Barbican in London had scrapped plans for gender-neutral toilets after visitor protests. And I learnt that there’s been a rise in youth referrals to gender identity clinics: the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation in London apparently saw more than 2,000 teenagers last year compared with 100 eight years ago — but statistically that’s probably less than 0.1 per cent of the population.
I’m not a complainer, but after 48 hours of stewing I sent an email to the head teacher and the head of my daughter’s year. To the school’s credit, before the day was out I received a phone call from a teacher (although not the head) and a calm-ish discussion ensued. I was told that it’s a changing world and we need to be gender-neutral to help gender-confused pupils. “Fine,” I said, “but there must be a way to do it that doesn’t involve upsetting the entire female population of the school.”
I’ve a son who goes to a different co-ed school, with a transgender pupil in his year. His school doesn’t have mixed WCs. Instead there are a couple of single disabled toilets that can be used by everyone — much more sensible.
Talking of boys, I asked my daughter how her male counterparts felt about the new loos. “They’re pervs,” she joked. “They’re delighted. They’ll probably drill holes in the walls.”
My son (a non-perv) agreed that mixed toilets wouldn’t bother him either, but many of the girls shared my daughter’s views, as, it turns out, do most of my female friends. One suggested that mixed toilets could even promote promiscuity among older children. Call me old-fashioned, but the notion of not having personal space when you’re going through puberty is nonsensical whatever your gender. Where should we draw the line?
The weeks passed and my daughter — along with others who were unhappy with the new loos — kept complaining, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. They were told to put up and shut up and think of others. As a parent, this felt wrong. Did only the transgender voice matter? What about my daughter’s voice? Shouldn’t both be listened to?
My daughter saw red. She started a petition for boys, girls and gender-neutrals to sign. Hundreds did. She insisted that a school council meeting be held and unisex toilets discussed. They were. And you know what? Eventually hers and other unhappy voices were listened to. And against the odds the toilets were quietly changed back to how they had been, with a smaller provision of unisex toilets kept for those who choose to use them.
It’s been a tough but fulfilling school year in which my child has learnt that if you’re passionate enough about something, you can effect change.
Don’t think for one minute, however, that she’s not sensitive to the transgender child. She is. She just wants everyone’s voices to be heard. It’s not about changing the law one way or the other. It’s about making sure that there’s provision for people of all genders or non-genders and that everyone feels comfortable everywhere.