Creating safe and inclusive toilets at The University of Queensland

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Most of us do not think twice about using the toilet. However for some, the thought of having to use a public bathroom can be so stressful that it prevents them from performing that basic need. Transgender, non-binary and gender fluid individuals often experience harassment in the form of discriminatory comments, physical abuse and gross invasion of privacy when using public restrooms[1]. Due to these incidents, individuals who do not identify as a particular gender or fit the stereotypical male or female image perceived by others tend to experience feelings of fear and discomfort.

A 2014 study[2] reported 65% of Australian gender non-conforming adolescents have avoided using a public restroom due to not conforming to gender stereotypes. A further 41% felt that their current or recent school facilities were inappropriate for their needs. These findings are only emerging in Australia; other countries such as the US have documented experiences of gender non-conforming individuals to a much more established extent. A 2015 study[3] found 59% of trans Americans avoided using a public restroom for fear of harassment. About 12% were verbally harassed, 9% were denied access altogether and 32% ate and drank less to reduce the odds that they would have to use a restroom. Restricting fluid intake and delaying toilet use creates physiological complications including the risk for urinary tract infections or kidney damage[4] .

The University of Queensland’s St. Lucia’s campus has 54 gender neutral toilets. However, most of these double as facilities for people with physical disabilities. Being transgender or gender diverse is not a disability. Furthermore, using one of these facilities would limit access for those who require accessibility and are unable to use a standard toilet.  

The current Australian Building Codes (ABC)[5] do not recognise or acknowledge the needs of the diverse gender spectrum and have consequently allowed for a non-inclusive environment. This warrants discrimination and harassment for the gender diverse community. Currently, the Australian Building Codes only accommodate ‘male’ and ‘female’ people and have actively excluded anyone who does not identify with these labels. For anyone outside these binary norms or whose appearance does not reflect societal expectations of binary gender, having to choose which toilet to use automatically puts a label on one’s gender whether asked for or not. Furthermore, this increases stigma and undermines the principal of equal access. Such segregation and marginalisation has a detrimental effect on an individual’s education, social life, sense of belonging, physical and mental health and future success.

Some countries such as Vancouver, Canada have already taken steps in updating their building legislation to allow facilities to be used by any gender. They have changed building codes to require gender-neutral toilets in all city-owned buildings[6]. In the United States, certain states have passed measures mandating that single-occupancy bathrooms in public spaces be labelled as gender-neutral[7]. Other positive campaigns include China’s bid to ensure selected scenic spots provide gender-neutral toilets[8] and Nepal’s recommendations[9] for gender neutral toilets in schools.

If the University of Queensland wishes to maintain its reputation as change creators and innovative pioneers they must create change themselves by creating supportive and more inclusive environments for everyone.

Our aim is to challenge the current Australian Building Codes in the hope of creating truly inclusive and safe toilet options for all individuals, regardless of their gender. With your support, we will highlight the importance of considering all needs for the development of future buildings at The University of Queensland. The outcome is to have an inclusive environment which will increase staff and student engagement and welcome diverse communities.

The basic human right to using the toilet should not be only limited to those who meet society’s physical expectations of a ‘man’ or ‘woman’. The needs of individuals on the greater gender spectrum are being ignored and it’s time to create change to ensure basic human rights are afforded to all.

References:

1. Thorn R. Why toilets are a battleground for transgender rights [internet] British Broadcasting Centre; 2016 [updated 2017; cited 2018 Oct 02]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-36395646
2. Smith E, Jones T, Ward R, Dixon J, Mitchell A, Hillier L. From Blues to Rainbows Report: Mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia. Melbourne, VIC: LaTrobe University; 2014.
3. James SE, Herman JL, Rankin S, Keisling M, Mottet L, Anafi M. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality; 2016
4. Gill W.B., Curtis G.A. The Influence of Bladder Fullness on Upper Urinary Tract Dimensions and Renal Excretory Function. Illinos, USA: Journal of Urology; 1977.
5. Australian Building Codes Board. National Construction Code (NCC) Volume One. Canberra, ACT: Australian Building Codes Board; 2015
6. No Author. Trans*, Gender Variant and Two-Spirit Inclusion at the City of Vancouver, Vancouver: City of Vancouver; 2016. Available from: https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/trans-gender-variant-and-two-spirit-inclusion-at-the-city-of-vancouver.pdf
7. Rodgers P. California: Unisex restrooms required by new single-stall law [internet]. The Mercury News; 2016 [updated 2016; cited 2018 Sept 26]. Availiable from: https://www.mercurynews.com/2016/09/29/california-unisex-restroom-single-stall-law-jerry-brown/
8. Xi S. Unisex public toilets a pioneering project [internet] China Daily; 2017 [updated 2017; cited 2018 Sept 26]. Availiable from: http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2017-06/13/content_29720640.htm
9. United Nations Development Programme, Being LGBT in Asia: Nepal Country Report. Bangkok: UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre; 2014. Available from: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/Being_LGBT_in_Asia_Nepal_Country_Report.pdf



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