Transgender rights: The fight for gender-neutral toilets

New York college is latest institution to abandon Male and Female signs on doors

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

Public toilets have become a key battleground in the fight for transgender rights, especially in the US.

Many trans people say conventional bathrooms force them to choose between suffering verbal accusations and insults in the female toilets or sexual harassment or assault in the male toilets.

"For trans people who don't fit neatly into the gender binary, public restrooms are a major source of anxiety and the place where they are most likely to be questioned or harassed," says writer and performer Ivan Coyote.

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A growing number of organisations, including the White House, are opting for gender-neutral toilets, but some politicians remain fiercely opposed to widening access.

Despite growing awareness of transgender rights, thanks in part to high-profile celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, activists say this hasn't yet translated into widespread acceptance.

The fight for gender-neutral toilets

A student-led campaign has seen a New York college become the latest institution to get rid of the Male and Female signs on its toilet doors.

"A public facility shouldn't have to ask if you're a man or a woman," Rio Sofia, one of the Cooper Union students, told The Guardian.

The movement is gaining momentum and a number of cities, including New York, Washington and Philadelphia, have passed bills that make all single-occupancy public bathrooms gender-neutral, the Chicago Tribune reports.

"It's a common sense, no-cost solution to a common problem," says the Transgender Law Centre.

The bathroom bill

At the other end of the battle are politicians attempting to push through legislation to force people to use toilets matching the gender they were assigned at birth.

Last week, politicians in North Carolina approved a bill restricting transgender people's access to toilets. LGBT advocacy groups have since filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legislation.

Proponents of these so-called bathroom bills say they are about ensuring public safety and privacy by preventing "voyeurism and rape".

But campaigners argue that gender-neutral bathrooms are unsafe and that trans people are far more likely to be victims of violence.

"These laws exist only to foster fear and promote transphobia," says Coyote. "They don't make anyone safer. But they do for sure make the world more dangerous for some of us."

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