At a time when the lives of trans people are being discussed unlike that of any other minority group. When their very existence is being 'debated', dismissed, and 'intellectualised' by non trans politicians, academics, and anti-trans groups and individuals, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government has put out a bizarrely timed and strangely worded call for evidence for an open consultation on increasing accessibility and provision of toilets for men and women. Along with other LGBT+ and human rights organisations, WeExist, a trans-led organisation designed to provide a platform for Trans People’s work, have raised the incredibly problematic threats that this open consultation poses to transgender rights.
We, at the LGBTIQA+ Greens, are adding our voices to this call for The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government to recognise that this consultation has the very real potential to be a violent attack on trans rights. We strongly call upon those responsible to ensure that this review of toilet provision considers and listens carefully to all the transgender voices that respond to the call for evidence Trans people should not be ignored or dismissed.
The government have claimed that this consultation aims to provide ‘dignity and respect for all’ however the consultation has refused the dignity of trans and GNC people by failing to even consider the needs of trans and GNC people in their consultation outline and only specifying the implications of current toilet provision for cisgender men and women.
Yet, accessibility and provision of toilets for trans and GNC people is an immensely pressing issue. According to the Stonewall LGBT in Britain report, Trans Report, 2018, 48% of Trans people say that they do not feel comfortable using public toilets due to fear of discrimination or harrassment. This is an alarming figure, and we believe central to any future focus on ‘dignity and respect for all.
As the consultation outline says: ‘toilets are an important facility for members of the public’ and have always been a place where members of the public should feel that they can find privacy, security, and safety however the above report highlights that trans and GNC people have not been afforded this basic right for far too long - this must change.
Violence against Trans and GNC individuals, black women, butch lesbians and disabled trans people has alarmingly and demonstrably increased in recent years, with a vast majority experiencing adverse levels of violence in public bathrooms.
Eloise Stonborough shared her experience using women’s toilets as a butch lesbian and highlighted that she is challenged on using the women’s toilet 1 in 3 times, thus creating natural anxiety about the safety of using single-sex public toilets. This is not an isolated experience - far too many trans and GNC women experience unwarranted harassment & violence when using these facilities.
The consultation raises the issue of women’s safety which is not an issue we take lightly. However, a study by Amira Hasenbush, Andrew R. Flores, and Jody L. Herman in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy Journal has found that there is no link between trans-inclusive bathroom provision and bathroom safety.
While harassment against women remains an urgent issue that needs to be addressed, it is not the provision of gender-neutral bathrooms that is driving this threat. LGBTIQA+ Greens would argue that the Government’s resources would therefore be put to better use if they were reviewing and tackling proven threats to women’s safety, such as rape culture and our abysmal rape prosecution rate.
To suggest, with no supporting evidence, the false notion that trans women and girls somehow increase the threat of violence against cis women and girls is a worrying distraction from the real issue of abuse by a small minority of violent and abusive cis men and women against all women, girls, and non-binary people.
We would also like to address further some of the concerns raised in the consultation outline that the MHCLG believes will be resolved by a greater focus on providing single-sex toilets.
Firstly, the consultation raises the fact that ‘women who menstruate, are pregnant, or at menopause may need to use the toilet more often.’ This statement promotes the incorrect notion that only women menstruate and excludes the trans men, GNC people, intersex people and non-binary people who also experience menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
As outlined by this study by Klara Rydstrom, degendering menstruation and ensuring that all menstruators can undergo menstruation, as well as menopause and pregnancy, without fear of harassment is vital to achieving the consultation’s aim of providing safe spaces for those who have ‘particular health or sanitary needs.’
Secondly, the consultation sets out the desire to ‘avoid queues for toilets’ and that male toilets ‘allow for a quicker transition of customers.’ However, studies on the implementation of gender-neutral toilets have shown that they improve waiting times across the board. A study by Luc Bovens and Alexandro Marcoci in the Cambridge Behavioural Public Policy Journal uncovered that ‘gender-neutral bathrooms reduce average waiting times.’ Therefore, evidence suggests that gender-neutral toilets appropriately fulfil this function and should be considered as part of any future policy.
Gender-neutral toilets can provide a safe, unrestricted, and unpoliced space and provide invaluable protection to marginalised groups of people, such as trans and GNC people, butch lesbians, and disabled people.
They also provide a safe space for children to be accompanied to the toilet by a parent of a different gender, for disabled people to be accompanied by someone of a different gender and will reduce waiting times for all of us.
Gender-neutral toilets are thereby essential in providing the dignity that this consultation calls for and it is surprising that the MHCLG sees gender-neutral toilets as an optional provision that will only be available ‘where space allows.’
We note that gender-neutral toilets must be part of the solution and not an opportunity for the creation of 'third spaces'. Individuals should always be welcome to use the toilet spaces they feel most comfortable using and that align with their gender.
As such, we reiterate our call for the MHCLG to take the above points into consideration when conducting this review and to listen to the voices of Trans and GNC people and activists.
(Response by LGBTIQA+ Greens to raise awareness. Positions expressed in this response may not be formal GPEW policy.)