Single-sex toilets to be compulsory in new public buildings

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Loop Images Ltd/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Loop Images Ltd/Alamy

New offices, schools, hospitals and entertainment venues will be expected to have separate male and female lavatories, government sources have confirmed, in a move to curb the sole installation of gender-neutral facilities.

Ministers will formally announce this week that it is acting to prevent non-residential buildings from being built solely with “universal” lavatories. The move will involve changes to building regulations and planning guidance.

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The plans, headed by the equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, were quietly approved last month, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The government has said some children are avoiding using lavatories at school because they only have access to gender-neutral facilities.

The policy was first proposed in May 2021 and was criticised as being transphobic because it offered no alternative plan for trans and non-binary people.

Campaigners for trans rights have pointed out that gender-neutral toilets can be reassuring for some transgender men and women who fear discrimination in binary toilets.

The secretary of state for housing at the time, Robert Jenrick, rejected the accusation and identified concerns held by some women about the reduced privacy and longer queues resulting from gender-neutral facilities.

It follows an intense debate over whether trans women should be given automatic access to single-sex spaces such as toilets, prisons and changing rooms. Most recently there has been a debate over the participation of trans women in women’s sports.

Badenoch has said the planned changes to lavatory regulations are legal and “important” to provide single-sex spaces for men and women.

The guidance will apply to buildings over a certain size and will be set after a technical consultation in the autumn.

Downing Street wants the changes to apply to all buildings that operate as business premises. Government Property Agency guidance will be updated to ensure new or redeveloped government-owned buildings provide single-sex toilets.

Some women’s rights groups have argued that women are “disadvantaged” by gender-neutral facilities that contain a mixture of urinals and cubicles, since they cannot use urinals whereas men can use the cubicles.

“Furthermore, many women and girls are unwilling to walk past the urinals to get to the cubicles in the former men’s facilities,” the Fair Play for Women campaign group said in one submission to the government.

In 2019 the Old Vic theatre in London became the latest venue to face criticism when it converted all of its male and female lavatories to gender-neutral toilets as part of a refurbishment.

The theatre doubled the number of lavatories in the building and said it would mark the new rooms with pictures of a cubicle or a urinal, “allowing people to make their own decision about which loo is suitable for them”.

A government source confirmed that an announcement is expected this week.

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