Push for gender-neutral toilets

The University of Otago is investigating installing ''gender-neutral'' toilets after calls from the trans community, who say they face being abused when going to the toilet.

Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) gay support co-ordinator Neill Ballantyne said he had received reports of people in the trans community ''being pushed [and] being yelled at'' by people uncomfortable with them using the university's toilets.

As a response to this and the anxiety it led to, a group representing the trans and gay community at Otago, called Space, was leading a campaign for more ''gender-neutral'' toilets, which could include single or multi-cubicle units.

The group, supported by Mr Ballantyne, recently met vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne to ask for more gender-neutral toilets.

Mr Ballantyne was happy with Prof Hayne's response and glad she was ''on board'' with the principles of its campaign.

However, eventually, he would like the university to introduce a written policy on gender-neutral toilets.

Prof Hayne said the university supported the principles behind the campaign for more gender-neutral facilities, but a written policy would take time.

''Our goal was to be more proactive and investigate how we could meet the needs of these students as quickly as possible,'' she said.

University director of property services Barry MacKay said it was in the process of investigating the provision of gender-neutral facilities in existing buildings and installing them in all new buildings.

Mr Ballantyne said the group was also keen for more education on the issue.

They hoped this would reduce incidents where members of the trans community were accosted for going to the toilet.

Asked if the campaign was an example of political correctness, Mr Ballantyne said the ability to be able to go to the toilet without feeling anxiety should be ''a basic human right''.

He compared it with the successful campaign around installing disabled access for toilets.

In a recent survey carried out by OUSA, 43 respondents said they felt uncomfortable using ''gender segregated'' toilets.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz