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London cinema gets a lesson on how not to do gender-neutral bathrooms

London cinema gets a lesson on how not to do gender-neutral bathrooms

Samira Ahmed criticizes gender-neutral toilets at the Barbican

Typically any introduction of a gender-neutral bathroom would be met with applause, but one venue sparked criticism from both trans and cis people this week.

The Barbican recently announced they had introduced toilets for any gender.

A spokesman explained: ‘The Barbican has recently introduced gender neutral toilets in one of the public areas of the Centre as part of our commitment to welcoming all and creating a supportive, tolerant and flexible space for all our audiences and staff.’

The problem? Rather than talking to users and coming up with a solution that works for all, the Barbican’s plan for gender-neutrality in the cinema area appears to involve changing the signs.

The men’s bathroom read ‘gender-neutral with urinals’ and the women’s had ‘gender-neutral’ with cubicles’ written on them.

This doubled the capacity for bathrooms for men and halved it for women.

Not surprisingly, a number of women, including BBC Presenter, Samira Ahmed, took to Twitter to protest.

Ahmed tweeted: ‘Dear @BarbicanCentre women’s loos labelled “gender neutral” so full of men who ALSO hv a ” urinal” to themselves. Totally ridiculous.’

Making it clear that her problem was with capacity rather than gender-neutrality per se, she went on: ‘Why do women lose our space to men!? All women can use ladies loos. This isn’t the USA.’

‘Give us back women’s loos for ALL women. (Cinema 1)’.

‘Or just Turn the gents into gender neutral loos. There’s NEVER such a queue there & you know it. Thankyou.’.

Speaking to Gay Star News she made clear her support for non-binary, saying: ‘People genuinely distressed using the gents can always use the ladies. Common sense is non binary! But don’t take away right to female space’.

We asked the Barbican to explain their approach, and they told us: ‘The adjacent toilet (the men’s) could not be converted at present due to the physical limitations of the space and is therefore currently signposted as “Toilets with urinals”.’

They added: ‘We’re continuing to explore how we can make the Centre’s facilities as welcoming as possible to our many audiences and appreciate feedback about how this new system is working.’

We asked them what consultations, if any, they had carried out with toilet users in advance, but have not yet received any response on this.

As others noted online, the Barbican Centre appears to be suffering from the ‘winterval effect’. This is a frequent problem in respect of LGBTI issues, when over-enthusiastic allies adopt policies for the benefit of specific groups without consulting in advance on how – or even whether – a particular policy is wanted. The result: a policy that does little to advance minority interests and often achieves little more than backlash against a community that did not ask for it in the first place.

Rebecca Stinson, Head of Trans Inclusion at Stonewall, said: ‘It’s really encouraging that more businesses want to help trans people feel safe and welcome. However, before making this move, businesses must research the best way to make a space fully inclusive and communicate the importance of inclusion clearly with staff.

‘Other easy steps include designating specific gender neutral facilities and ensuring that trans people know they are welcome to use the facilities they find most appropriate.’