New offices, schools, hospitals and entertainment venues will be required to have separate toilets for men and women, government sources have confirmed, in a bid to limit the single installation of gender-neutral facilities.
Ministers will formally announce this week that it is taking action to prevent non-residential buildings being built with only ‘universal’ toilets. The move will involve changes to building regulations and planning advice.
The plans, led by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, were quietly approved last month, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The government said some children avoided using toilets at school because they only had access to gender-neutral facilities.
The policy was first proposed in May 2021 and was criticized as being transphobic as it offered no alternative plan for trans and non-binary people.
Trans rights activists have pointed out that gender-neutral restrooms can be reassuring to some transgender men and women who fear discrimination in binary restrooms.
Then-Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick dismissed the accusation and identified some women’s concerns about reduced privacy and longer queues resulting from gender-neutral facilities.
This follows an intense debate over whether transgender women should have automatic access to single-sex spaces such as toilets, jails and locker rooms. More recently, there has been a debate about the participation of trans women in women’s sports.
Badenoch said the planned changes to restroom regulations are legal and “significant” to provide gender-segregated 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 fall.
Downing Street wants the changes to apply to all buildings that operate as business premises. Government Property Agency guidelines will be updated to ensure government-owned buildings, new or redeveloped, have gender-segregated toilets.
Some women’s rights groups have argued that women are “disadvantaged” by gender-neutral facilities that contain a mix of urinals and stalls, since they cannot use the urinals while men can use the stalls. .
“In addition, many women and girls do not want to walk past urinals to get to cubicles in former men’s establishments,” campaign group Fair Play for Women said in a submission to the government.
In 2019, London’s Old Vic theater became the latest venue to come under fire when it converted all of its men’s and women’s toilets into gender-neutral ones as part of a refurbishment.
The theater has doubled the number of restrooms in the building and said it will mark new rooms with images of a cubicle or urinal, “allowing people to make their own decision as to which restroom is right for them” .
A government source confirmed that an announcement is expected this week.