The UK government has introduced regulations “to reverse the rise of gender-neutral toilets” in non-domestic public and private buildings.
Announced earlier this week by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the regulations are designed to restrict the creation of shared toilets in public buildings and “protect single sex spaces”.
Following the announcement, the regulations were described as a “backwards step” that would “threaten the safety of the LGBTQ+ community” by architectural groups.
“It is important that everybody has privacy”
Under the regulations, new public buildings will be required to provide separate single-sex toilets for men and women or self-contained toilets. Gender-neutral toilets will only be allowed “when lack of space allows only a single toilet”.
Announcing the regulations, minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch stated that the rules were being introduced to protect women and girls.
“It is important that everybody has privacy and dignity when using public facilities, she said. “Yet the move towards gender-neutral toilets has removed this fundamental right for women and girls.”
“These proposals will ensure every new building in England is required to provide separate male and female or unisex facilities, and publish guidance to explain the difference, protecting the dignity, privacy and safety of all.”
“We are alarmed by this backwards step”
The regulations are set to be introduced following a consultation titled Toilet provision for men and women: call for evidence, which the United Voices of the World – Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW) union has urged architects to respond to.
In response to the announcement, UVW-SAW drew attention to the fact that 83 per cent of respondents to the call said they were supportive of non-gendered toilets. Only 12 per cent said they were supportive of separate sex toilets.
“Despite 83 per cent of respondents being in support of non-gendered toilets, the government has pressed ahead with unprecedented new regulations, that will threaten the safety of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming or visibly queer,” said UVW-SAW member Martha Summers.
“As we feared, the proposals will make so-called ‘single-sex’ spaces the baseline legal requirement, leaving toilets that are free and safe for all to use as an optional extra ‘if space allows’.”
This was echoed by the Architecture LGBT+ group, which said that it was alarmed by the regulations.
“We are alarmed by this backwards step to reverse gender-neutral toilets in public buildings, preventing authentic inclusivity,” chair of Architecture LGBT+ Tom Guy and Architecture LGBT+ committee member Sarah Habershon told Dezeen.
“Gender-neutral spaces allow transgender and non-binary people, some of the most marginalised in society, the freedom to use facilities without having to gender themselves with dignity,” they continued.
“Gendered spaces speak of boundaries, segregation and ideas of who is allowed in and who is not. Government-led culture wars lead to division in society whilst we currently have a rise in homophobic and transphobic hate crime.”
In response to the news, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said it was assessing the consultation ahead of its own review.
“As a principle, RIBA supports the design of inclusive environments and we are looking carefully at the detail of this consultation,” said a RIBA spokesperson. “As we are in the middle of our own review, we are not yet in a position to comment.”
The regulations, which will impact England, are set to be implemented following a technical consultation that closes on 8 October.
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