More and more schools are installing gender neutral toilets as a replacement for single sex facilities, out of a misapprehension that toilets must be inclusive of both sexes. The ubiquitous term ‘gender neutral’ is just a euphemism for ‘mixed-sex’ toilets, a major policy change. We have looked at newspaper reports to see how this change has gone down with pupils and parents in schools where it has been implemented across the country. Common themes emerge from reading these reports, which we have quoted from below, and the overall message is very clear: gender neutral toilets aren’t working in schools.
The first report we found was from 2014 and this example of a school in Newhaven sets the tone: children don’t like sharing toilets with the opposite sex:
“Angry parents have complained after a primary school introduced unisex toilets in a bid to ‘prevent transphobia’.
“Pupils at Harbour Primary School in Newhaven, East Sussex, were shocked to discover they had to share the ‘gender neutral’ toilets at the start of the school year.
“Many parents say their children do not want to share facilities with the opposite sex because it makes them feel ‘uncomfortable’.
“There are seven-year-old girls using the same toilets as 11-year-old boys.”
“My daughter has said she doesn’t feel comfortable about it.”
“Although we are all up for equality we feel this is not allowing our children to choose.”
“A lot of our children don’t want to use toilets of the opposite sex.”
“Headteacher Christine Terrey said the decision to include single sex toilets in their new building had been taken by East Sussex County Council.
“She has invited parents to a meeting on ‘transphobia’, which will include a discussion about the toilets.”
Fast forward to 2017 and the headmaster at this private school in North London was forced to apologise to angry parents for implementing a policy that catered to the few at the expense of the majority who are left feeling ‘less comfortable and happy at school’:
“A headmaster at a £20,000-a-year private school has issued an apology after he unveiled new ‘gender neutral’ toilets for pupils after they returned from summer holidays.
“Adam Pettitt, 51, claimed the new toilets at Highgate School in North London would help those ‘gender fluid or don’t wish to identify themselves with a gender’.
“But some parents said pupils felt ‘less comfortable and happy’ at the £20,370 a year school where old pupils include cricketer Phil Tufnell and inventor Sir Clive Sinclair.
“Mr Pettit has now apologised to parents in a letter saying,
“I’m aware that this change has left a number of pupils particularly in Years 7 and 8 feeling less comfortable and happy at school.”
“We will continue to support gender fluid and non gender binary pupils. However I have been asked whether the change which has impacted on many pupils is proportionate to the needs of a smaller number.”
A parent said,
“I’m afraid the headmaster has been fixated with this issue and with this letter he has lost what little credibility he had left.”
“He should be focusing on the running of the school itself and not on pandering to issues such as gender fluidity. Many parents are wondering whether he should reconsider his role within the school.’”
The next story from 2018 provides the one exception to the rule: it is not a ‘progressive’ head teacher but the pupils themselves who introduce the possibility of gender neutral toilets. Girls attending this all-girls school in Blackheath are, of course, free to play around with new signage for toilets, safe in the knowledge that only female pupils will be using them:
“A leading private girls’ school is considering introducing gender neutral toilets — even though all pupils are female.
“Carol Chandler-Thompson, head of the £16,000-a-year Blackheath High School, said pupils have raised the issue of changing the signage on lavatories with her and they are having “intelligent conversations” about it.”
How those same girls might feel if they were forced to share their toilets with a pupil of the male sex is unknown. In the following story from the same month it is clear that this is irrelevant and when the headteacher at this school in Rochford says ‘everyone has the right to feel comfortable’ he doesn’t include the girls:
“A student at King Edmund School in Rochford, Essex told transgender support group Transpire that a teacher said she could not use the toilets “out of respect”.
“Transpire said schools need to make sure no pupils are made to feel alone.
“Headteacher Jonathan Osborn said pupils will now be able to use a toilet which “matches their identified gender”.
“Founder of Transpire, Gina Denham, said it was about “raising awareness” and making sure the pupil “could have that sense of belonging”.
“Mr Osborn said King Edmund School believes ‘everyone has the right to feel comfortable’ in order to “achieve the very best they can”.
“He said the school always discusses “individual needs with each of the small number of transgender students it has” and has sought to put in place agreed toilet provision.
“He added that “because of what the school stands for and the rights written into equality law, the school made the decision to allow transgender students to use a toilet that matches their identified gender”.”
Schools are being led to believe that they have inadvertently been in breach of the Equality Act 2010 over the past two decades with their ‘discriminatory’ policies of single-sex toilets and changing-rooms. In June, a parent’s account lays bare the impact of this aim to end ‘discrimination’ by introducing gender neutral toilets. The girls in this school were told to ‘put up and shut up and think of others.’ This they refused to do. Eventually they were listened to and the toilets were quietly changed back. The school came up with the obvious solution of retaining single sex toilets together with a smaller provision of unisex toilets for those who choose them:
“My daughter told me that other girls in the school felt equally outraged and I wasn’t surprised. I dislike unisex toilets even as an adult, but imagine being a teenage girl having to open a sanitary towel or tampon with a boy in the cubicle next door. No, no and no. Girls need privacy.
“Talking of boys, I asked my daughter how her male counterparts felt about the new loos. “They’re pervs,” she joked. “They’re delighted. They’ll probably drill holes in the walls.”
“My son (a non-perv) agreed that mixed toilets wouldn’t bother him either, but many of the girls shared my daughter’s views, as, it turns out, do most of my female friends.
“The weeks passed and my daughter — along with others who were unhappy with the new loos — kept complaining, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. They were told to put up and shut up and think of others. As a parent, this felt wrong. Did only the transgender voice matter? What about my daughter’s voice? Shouldn’t both be listened to?
“My daughter saw red. She started a petition for boys, girls and gender-neutrals to sign. Hundreds did. She insisted that a school council meeting be held and unisex toilets discussed. They were. And you know what? Eventually hers and other unhappy voices were listened to. And against the odds the toilets were quietly changed back to how they had been, with a smaller provision of unisex toilets kept for those who choose to use them.”
In the same month, in Scotland, a campaigner found that councils had not thought through the obvious impact on girls on having to share their toilets with pupils of the opposite sex, and had carried out no research:
“A campaigner has claimed that new rules allowing school pupils to adopt a different gender and share changing rooms and toilets will “negatively affect” girls, as a charity prepares a legal challenge over the guidelines.
“It comes as Freedom of Information requests showed that a number of councils have not looked in-depth at the impact that the change in policy will have on schoolchildren.
“The Herald reports that a campaigner, Jess Stewart, believed that the FOI results show councils have not thought through the implications of the changes.
“The Children’s Commissioner, Education Scotland, and the Scottish Government all said that they did not carry out research on how pupils would be affected by the move.
“Ms Stewart added: “In the rush to be trans inclusive, has every single adult who approved this guidance booklet completely forgotten about the needs of girls? Do our girls mean so little nowadays to not even deserve the right of privacy?
“On one hand the media is reporting about the sharp increase of sexual harassment and assaults of girls within schools and on the other we are telling our girls they no longer have the right to set their own boundaries of who can be within their private spaces when vulnerable.”
In Bolton in September, another headteacher was facing a backlash from parents. It seems to be down to parents to point out the obvious; that a lack of privacy means that children will refuse to use the toilets and that girls especially would find it embarrassing:
“A headteacher is facing a backlash from parents after unisex toilets were introduced at a secondary school.
“Little Lever School in Bolton has installed male and female cubicles in the same bathroom for the new term.
“Several parents shared concerns about a lack of privacy on Facebook, with some threatening to keep children at home.
“Some parents said their children had refused to use the toilets.
“One parent said: “Some girls would find it embarrassing or difficult to deal with. I know I would have done.”
“Mr McKeon responded to parents’ concerns, stating: “The toilets go from the floor to the ceiling to create a private cubicle.”
“He told the BBC feedback from pupils had been “mixed” and a final decision on the toilets would be made at a meeting of governors on 12 September.
“Younger pupils seem to be quite comfortable with using the toilet, but some of the older pupils, particularly girls, have raised concerns and we are listening to them,” he said.”
More angry parents in November, this time in Warrington. The memo given to schools seems to be ‘change to gender neutral toilets in the holidays without telling anyone.’ It’s not a surprise to learn that this school which has misunderstood Equality law is a Stonewall Champion school. It is left to two dads to point out that it might be difficult for girls starting their periods and that both sexes may need a private space away from the opposite sex at times:
“A DECISION to introduce gender neutral toilets into a primary school has sparked anger among some parents who say they were not told about the change.
“Barrow Hall Primary School in Great Sankey implemented the change at the start of term after governors decided to turn the separate girls and boys units into gender neutral facilities at the end of the last academic year.
“The toilets are used by key stage two pupils, aged between seven and 11.
“One parent, who did not wish to be named, said:
“We think it started in September when they came back after then holidays but nobody has told us.”
“One or two people might have known but most parents didn’t. I can’t believe they weren’t told.”
“Everyone is very angry about it.”
“Some of the girls don’t want to use the toilets because the boys make a mess and some are even refusing to go at home.”
“I just cannot believe the head teacher and the governors brought this in without saying anything.”
“Gender neutral facilities are being introduced to promote ‘inclusivity’ for transgender people but many have expressed concern that this compromises female safety.
The school’s statement:
“Barrow Hall believes passionately in equality of opportunity and ‘embracing difference’ in all individuals. We therefore believe children should be able to access all facilities equally and we should not segregate pupils unnecessarily.”
“Barrow Hall is a Stonewall Champion school and, in line with training and advice based on research, the vast majority of children who are experiencing gender identity issues feel much safer using gender neutral facilities rather than having to discuss their anxieties openly at a young age.”
“The school has a statutory duty to follow the Equality Act 2010 which ‘requires all schools in England to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different groups of students’.”
“This means taking proactive steps to support LGBT pupils as well as pupils who do not conform to gender norms by promoting respect and understanding of LGBT people and issues across the whole school community.”
“We believe this change is in line with the spirit, as well as the principles of this law.”
Wynne Mitchell said:
“I think there could be an issue here from experience I know that some girls start their periods in primary school.”
“Which is difficult for the girl but to share toilets with boys would I think make the situation more difficult.”
Phil Silk added:
“It becomes being a problem when just one kid is noticed by another for having a break down during a personal moment and then spreading that all around the school for all the other kids to know.”
“When they have separate toilet facilities that’s less likely to happen, as the lads might have one problem and the girls another, so at the very least they might have appreciation for what the same sex might be going through.”
On to 2019 and a consultation in Wales reveals that girls are missing school because of period shaming from some boys, others are going all day without drinking water so they don’t have to go to the toilet and some don’t use the toilets because they fear sexual harassment. Muslim girls don’t want to adjust their hijabs in front of boys, and some boys also try to avoid mixed-sex toilets:
“Some girls are missing school because they don’t like the growing trend of mixed sex toilets.
“They are staying at home when they have periods because of “period shaming” from some boys.
“Other girls are going all day without drinking water so they don’t have to use the facilities and some don’t use them because they fear sexual harassment.
“Some Muslim girls also dislike having to adjust their hijabs in front of boys.
“One parent told the consultation that her teenage daughter at a secondary school in Cardiff refuses to use the mixed sex toilets:
“She won’t use the toilets and tries to last all day. I sometimes have to go and collect her.”
“There are problems when she has a period. Boys are always speculating on whether girls are having their periods according to how long they take in the toilet.”
“Another respondent, describing themselves as “a comp teacher” said the verdict on mixed sex facilities from a class of 15-16 year-olds was “no way”.
“Another parent said:
“I think we need to ask how parents and kids are being consulted.”
“Unisex toilets in new buildings seem to be presented as a done deal and as ‘anti bullying’ and ‘inclusion’.”
“This puts anyone objecting in a difficult position and puts an unrealistic burden on kids.”
“At primary level the parent of one four year-old told the consultation she hates using mixed sex toilets for her reception class while another said:
“My daughter hated the mixed sex toilets up to age eight in her school, she used to avoid going and come home bursting.”
“Although the consultation concentrates on complaints from girls it has had some from parents of boys.
“These include a parent saying:
“My son has mixed sex toilets at his new-build secondary school.
“He doesn’t like it and says he tries to never use them.”
Yet more angry parents in April, this time in Brighton, yet again pointing out that girls have periods and that either sex may feel nervous about using a toilet if there was a group of the opposite sex in there. Another petition:
“PARENTS are angry over “gender neutral toilets” planned for a primary school.
“A petition is demanding Rudyard Kipling School in Woodingdean halts proposals to convert the girls’ toilets into “gender neutral” facilitates and demolish the boys’.
“The school says the toilets will be similar to others used in a number of schools and universities in Brighton.
“The toilets at the school in Chalkland Rise would be for children in Key Stage Two, who are aged between seven and 11. The petition was started by mother Demi Abell and has already been signed by 25 other parents.
“Ms Abell, whose daughter goes to the school, said:
“Girls in Year 6 might be starting to get their monthly cycles and it’s a hard enough time as it is without having to feel even more uncomfortable.”
“And for either sex, if there’s a big group of the opposite sex in the toilets, they might feel nervous about going.”
“Ms Abell said she took her daughter to a “gender neutral” public toilet to show what it would be like – and she refused to use one of the toilets.”
In West London in September another school sneakily changed the toilets in the holidays without telling anyone, presumably hoping no-one would notice. More stories of girls holding themselves in all day and cases reported of boys looking at girls over the tops of toilets. More angry parents:
“A primary school in West London has outraged parents after making its toilets gender-neutral.
“Students at Deanesfield Primary School, South Ruislip, which teaches children from reception age to 11, returned to school this September to find the toilets are now unisex.
“The change appears to have been made in haste as the cubicles reportedly don’t measure up to standard, having gaps above and below, allowing curious students to look in on one another.
“Many parents are outraged by the change, which they claim they were not informed of, and some have reportedly begun collecting signatures at the school gates in an attempt to force the school to reverse the change.
“According to parents, some children are sufficiently embarrassed by sharing toilets that they are refusing to pee while at school.
“One parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, said:
“Making the toilets unisex isn’t the issue for me, it’s the fact they haven’t followed the guidelines, which state that unisex toilets must have cubicle walls from floors to ceiling.”
“They haven’t done this and there’s already been cases of boys looking over the tops at girls on the toilet. Children are so inquisitive at school age.”
“Girls are being forced to hold themselves until they get home which could damage kidneys. My friend’s daughter has been holding herself all day because she’s so embarrassed. It’s not fair on the kids really.”
“We as parents have not even been notified of the change which is a bit wrong.”
The following month saw a report of parents’ concerns: girls feeling so anxious they stay home when menstruating, girls refusing to urinate all day and girls who feel so fearful they have stopped drinking liquids at school. A GP points out the harms to girls, both physical and psychological:
“Gender-neutral toilets in schools have left girls feeling unsafe and even put their health at risk, parents and teachers have warned.
“Girls who are menstruating are so anxious about sharing facilities with boys that some are staying at home for fear of being made to feel ‘period shame’.
“With a growing number of both primary and secondary schools installing unisex toilets, some girls are risking infections by refusing to urinate all day.
“Others are so fearful they have stopped drinking liquids at school.
“Parents and teaching staff have told The Mail on Sunday that female pupils feel deeply uncomfortable or even unsafe sharing toilets with male students.
“GP Tessa Katz said holding in urine for prolonged periods on a regular basis could increase the risk of girls suffering urinary and bladder infections.
“‘The psychological effects of girls not feeling safe enough to use mixed-sex toilets is also concerning,’ Dr Katz said.”
The same month saw yet another school, in Midlothian, changing the toilets to unisex while everyone was on holiday. The result: more girls embarrassed to use the toilets, holding urine in all day and scared to go to school when they have just started their periods. In this case we also have boys peeing in the sinks. Parents are once again understandably angry:
“ANGRY parents have told how children went back to their Midlothian primary school after half-term to find the toilets had been made unisex.
“Mothers said daughters, including some who had started their periods, were now embarrassed to use the facilities at Mayfield Primary while boys have been spotted urinating in the sinks.
“A mother-of-three from Mayfield who has an eight-year-old daughter at the school said parents only found out on Wednesday when pupils returned from the break.
“She’s totally embarrassed,” said the 32-year-old.
“A lot of the kids were just waiting until they got home because they were too embarrassed to go to the toilet.
“The kids were off for the break and returned to school and when they were walking home, they said there were boys in the toilet.”
“I was really horrified. My little girl said the boys were carrying on and peeing in the sinks. Girls obviously mature quicker than boys.”
“Parents should be told. All the parents are not comfortable with it. They’re not happy about it at all. They think their kids are too young for this.”
“Some of the Primary 7 girls are starting their periods and they have to take sanitary products to the toilet with them.”
“Wee girls shouldn’t be going to school and feeling embarrassed to go to the toilet – it’s hard enough at that age.”
“Another parent, of a ten-year-old girl at Mayfield, said:
“My girl’s just started her period and I can’t send her to school if she’s on her period because she’s too scared.”
“I understand about equality and diversity and trying to make it equal for transgender but, I’m sorry, they’re primary school kids.”
It seems that schools have been misled about Equality law. ‘Inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ are equally legitimate strategies to achieve equality, sometimes one is needed and sometimes the other. In the case of toilets, exclusion of the opposite sex has always been policy in order to ensure privacy for both sexes and for the safeguarding of girls.
In the case of toilets, the results of a policy of ‘inclusion’ are clear: the removal of the right to privacy for both sexes and discrimination against the sex with the greater need for privacy: girls. Mixed-sex or gender neutral toilets are not working for obvious reasons which should have been considered by schools before implementing this experiment on pupils.