Gender-neutral toilets in The Sugarhouse are a fundamental step forward in liberation for our Union. Trans* students (including non-binary and intersex individuals) face countless difficulties, acts of oppression, and microagressions in their daily lives. These impact hugely upon the mental health of these individuals; for example, trans* students have an alarmingly high suicide rate. With this in mind it is vital from a welfare perspective that universities and student unions do what is necessary to make these individuals feel safer and more comfortable on campus. There are many forms that this can take. Gender-neutral toilets are an example of an important (and relatively low cost and effort) means of making trans* students feel safer.
Without the existence of gender-neutral toilets in nightclubs, trans* students are forced to use binary bathrooms. This can be an incredibly stressful and triggering experience. Campaigns such as “I’ll go with you”, wherein cis-gender or binary-presenting people pledge to go with trans* people into toilets to support them and prevent discrimination, aim to ease these issues, but the real problems lie in the commonplace transphobia. In single sex bathrooms, trans* students might experience misgendering, verbal assault, or even physical or sexual violence. These issues can be further exacerbated by the nightclub environment, with alcohol or drugs causing an increase in aggressive behaviour. The existence of a gender-neutral toilet creates a safe space where trans* students can privately use the facilities without fear of discrimination.
The gender-neutral toilet campaign is not a new thing either; universities across the UK, including in Manchester and London, have opened gender-neutral facilities in the past few years. At these universities they have been met with positive or ambivalent feedback from students. Lancaster ought to be celebrating diversity, and the Union ought to be addressing student needs. Having gender-neutral toilets does this. And to those raising concerns about possible increases in sexual harassment and assault from the existence of gender-neutral bathrooms, I would like to point out that there has been research by the transgender law centre suggesting the implementation of gender-neutral toilets actually decreases the amount of incidents experienced because mixed-gender or gender-neutral bathrooms will likely have more observers. Further, it is important to remember that these incidents are not the fault of the location or the decision to use a single gender or gender-neutral toilet, but of the person who thinks it’s okay to harass or assault another and the systems which create these beliefs. Toilets aren’t responsible for rape; rapists are.
In an ideal world, having specified gender-neutral toilets might not be necessary because there would be no transphobia. Until then, they are a needed and potent tool for combating oppression.