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A gender-neutral toilet, also known as a unisex toilet or a gender-free toilet is a public restroom or toilet that is available for use by either the male or female gender, and includes family restrooms.
Sex-separated public toilets are a source of difficulty for some people. For example, people with children of the opposite sex must choose between bringing the child into a toilet not designated for the child's gender, or entering a toilet not designated for one's own. Men caring for babies often find that only the women's washroom has been fitted with a change table. People with disabilities who need assistance to use the restroom have an additional problem if their helper is the opposite sex.
Sex-separated public toilets are often difficult to negotiate for transgender or androgynous people, who are often subject to embarrassment, harassment, or even assault or arrest by others offended by the presence of a person they interpret as being of the other gender (whether due to their outward presentation or their genital status).
Many existing public toilets are gender-neutral. Additionally, some public places (such as facilities targeted to the transgender or LGBT communities, and a few universities and offices) provide individual washrooms that are not gender-specified, specifically in order to respond to the concerns of gender-variant people; but this remains very rare and often controversial. Various courts have ruled on whether transgender people have the right to use the washroom of their gender of identification.
Transgender advocacy groups in the United States have taken up the cause of unisex toilets. They see unisex toilets as a solution to eliminate harassment and other inconveniences for trans people in using conventional toilets. In 2005 there were only 5 American cities, including San Francisco and New York, with regulations for public restroom access based on person's perceived gender identity rather than their birth sex.
A significant number of facilities have additional gender-neutral public toilets for a different reason — they are marked not for being for females or males, but as being accessible to persons with disabilities, and are adequately equipped to allow a person using a wheelchair and/or with mobility concerns to use them. Some buildings have restrooms with a single toilet each, and these may be redesignated as gender-neutral with out requiring people of different genders to share them at the same time.
There are several ways to add gender neutral toilets to existing restroom provision without building new toilet blocks. One is to simply designate disabled toilets as gender neutral, as disabled users of both genders use them anyway. Under this model, University of Bradford Union became the first university student union in the United Kingdom to institute gender neutral toilets in 2008 after campaigning by the student union's welfare officer, Sophia Coles-Riley. Another option is to make all toilets unisex, regardless of previous designation. Sussex University has been trialling this. Several other universities have instituted gender neutral toilets after campaigning by union LGBT groups, most notably Manchester University, who faced an international media furor in September 2008 after they designated one set of their four toilets as gender neutral. The BBC mistakely reported that the entire union had been made gender neutral against the wishes of the student population, and several other media outlets picked up the story. Media coverage spread as far as India and Brazil, but also spurred other student groups to press for gender neutral toilets in their own unions.
On Tuesday 27 October 2009, Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) appeared on the front page of The Student after having decided that week to introduce gender neutral toilets. This was done at the joint request of EUSA's Welfare Committee and LGBT Action Group. Again, EUSA did not spend any money on building new toilet blocks, but simply located a facility within the union building which only contained one toilet and designated this a gender neutral toilet. A sign was changed from reading, 'Gents' to one simply reading, 'toilet', a move which Kate Harris, EUSA's LGBT Action Group convener said she would like to see implemented in the future across all union buildings and all campuses.
From Thursday February 4 to Sunday February 7, 2010, The University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS) temporarily designated all bathrooms in their student union building as gender neutral. This was done to accommodate delegates of the Canadian Universities conference Queer Services (CUQSC). The changes included previously single sex multi-stalled bathrooms. Signs reading 'Gender Neutral Washroom Everyone welcome to use!' were posted over previous male and female designations on the doors to the bathrooms.
- Why Trans-gendered People Need Human Rights (Herizons: Fall 2001)
- http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/04/national/04bathroom.html?ex=1267678800&en=dc720bf775ee6e9a&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland A Quest for a Restroom That's Neither Men's Room Nor Women's Room
- West Midlands NUS, http://www.wmanus.org.uk/images/WMANUS_Briefing.doc Gender Neutral Toilets Briefing. Accessed August 24, 2008.
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