When a 9-year-old child came out as a transgender individual, her parents supported her need to be socially recognised as the gender she identified with. Her grades improved, she was no longer getting suspended and she kept the friends she made. It all went well until one thing happened: The girl’s parents were told that she had to use toilets for the disabled, which were not gendered. This is the point where one might ask: Why would there be a problem if queer individuals used toilets for the disabled instead? How can this be perceived as discrimination?
Forcing someone who is queer to use disabled toilets would bring us back to the time when queer individuals were perceived as being mentally disabled. However, as most of us would know in the 21st century, transgender people are no longer considered mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Even if members of the education institution may not have perceived the child as one who was disabled, or simply suggested that the child could use toilets for the disabled out of convenience, it could easily be interpreted as saying queer individuals are mentally disabled. That’s why it can be offensive. It was an excuse for the institution not to build unisex toilets, but it was an excuse that can harm many others.
The act of entering a female toilet was the child’s way of expressing her gender identity. It was only awkward because everyone knew the child was born male, but things would have been even worse if she was forced to use either the male toilets. Imagine if the child was so uncomfortable with walking into the boy’s toilets that she had to hold things in for too long; imagine if boys scoffed or laughed at her; imagine if boys started feeling uncomfortable about having a girl enter their private space too.
If people who identify with the gender they were assigned with with have the right to use toilets comfortably, then so should all who identify as queer. We all have the right to be who we want to be and express that freely. Obviously, we need to bring this practice of having unisex toilets beyond just primary schools into bigger educational institutions such as universities. Unisex toilets need to be built for the safety and wellbeing of queer individuals. We must make sure they are not negatively affected from a young age, or for a long time, including their time in university. Three to five years is not short.
Want more information? Have a look at the news article published on The Australian. This case prompted the Queensland Government to plan for the installation of unisex toilets in schools.