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24th Apr 2021

New schools in Ireland will be given the option of having gender neutral bathrooms

Trine Jensen-Burke

gender neutral toilets

It was one of the measures included in the LGBTI+ Youth Strategy that was published back in 2018.

And now, under new design guidance released by the Department of Education, gender-neutral toilets will from now no be an option for schools.

In the past few years, a number of secondary schools around the country sought permission from the Government before building to install gender-neutral bathrooms, and now, as part of the updated school design guide, it has been made clear that these bathrooms will include self-contained cubicles with their own doors.

Sinks will be communal and the designs show that they can be seen from corridors.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said these are “simply design guidelines” and any decision on the designated gender of bathroom facilities can only be made by the school.

They also added: “The operation of sanitary facilities is a matter for each school authority. As such, early discussion in the design process between the design team and the school authority in relation to the arrangement and layout of sanitary facilities is required.”

The new advice states that the design of these new facilities should be done so in the will to stop bullying or anti-social activities in these spaces.

“All sanitary facilities are to be designed with the physical and emotional safety of pupils in mind, to promote inclusivity and in order to remove the risk of bullying in the school environment,” the document says.

“Toilets, corridors, cloakrooms, locker areas, changing rooms and showers may be the location of verbal, psychological and physical bullying.

“The behaviour of pupils in those areas requires careful monitoring through passive supervision.”

It added that toilets should be arranged in “small blocks, not in large central blocks” to discourage anti-social behaviour, reduce disruption caused by cleaning and maintenance, and cut down class time lost by pupils using the facilities.

“All student sanitary facilities are to be designed and located in order to maximise passive supervision and reduce the risk of bullying and anti-social behaviour,” the document continued.

“At the same time, the privacy of each individual WC unit is not to be compromised.”

Commenting on the new guidelines, CEO of BeLonGTo Youth Services, Moninne Griffith, said this can only be seen as a “really positive step” for trans and non-binary students.

“It’s about choice and it’s about making sure that there’s the option of segregated and gender-neutral bathrooms,” Ms Griffith explained on Newstalk earlier this week.

“So I think for any parents that are worried about that just go back to the source and read the facts. Schools will consult with parents, they’ll consult with students – and also bathrooms, sometimes, can be quite a contested space anyway for students where some bullying goes on.”