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Is Berlin set to become the most gender neutral city in Europe?

Is Berlin set to become the most gender neutral city in Europe?

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A recent report says it will be ‘simple’ and cheap to put gender neutral toilets in all government buildings in Berlin.

Buildings from public courts to job centers in the German capital could get unisex facilities if the report is implemented.

The Minister of Justice, Dirk Behrendt said the move would reduce discrimination against transgender and intersex people.

It says, ‘at a maximum’ the cost would not exceed 500 euro per unit. In many cases, it would be a simple replacement of signage.

But, the German capital already has a long history of all-gender toilets in clubs. Recent years have also already seen theaters and other government buildings put ‘unisex-klos’ in.

As the capital is set to celebrate its annual pride on 22 July, Gay Star News spoke to Berlin LGBTI groups to find out if this all sets Berlin up to be one of the most gender neutral cities.

‘It’s a no brainer’

Heiner Schulze is a member of the board at the Schwules Museum. Since it opened in 1985 it’s been documenting and exhibiting LGBTI life in Berlin.

He said the report showed good, but obvious steps forward in improving accessibility.

However, Schulze spoke of the politicization of unisex toilets as an issue.

‘The intense discussions on gender neutral toilets in Germany and the US, are not really about toilets.’

It’s something the Justice minister was also key to highlight when the report came out. Speaking to German newspaper Tagesspiegel Behrendt said he wanted to avoid a ‘culture war’ akin to the ‘Bathroom Bill’ controversies in the United States.

Schulze said ‘Those people don’t care about toilets…

‘The resistance against non-gendered toilets is instead just a vehicle to bring in their own sexism, homonegativity, and heteronormativity into the discussion.

‘Debates on toilets are basically like dog-whistle politics, just not with a racist undertone, but sexist and queer phobic ones.’

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Is LGBTI inclusivity at an all time high in the city?

The managing director of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, Jörg Steinert, said recent legislation changes in the law have ‘demonstrated the growing consensus in German society that LGBTI people deserve the same rights.’

However they were keen to point out, this hasn’t yet translated into a change in culture.

‘Same-sex couples cannot casually hold hands without first considering possible reactions and even their physical safety. Even in Berlin.’

‘The trans community faces daily discrimination including in employment and housing. Trans individuals are also disproportionately affected by violent hate crimes.

‘Additionally, intersex people face high rates of non-consensual invasive medical procedures.’

Although all gender toilets are commons in clubs, in public spaces the LSVD say trans and intersex people face prejudice.

‘Trans and intersex people face particular challenges using single-sex restrooms.

‘Whispers, suspicious stares, and requests to leave the facility are part of the everyday lives of trans people.

‘Many who do not feel they can safely and comfortably use public restrooms avoid them altogether.’

Berlin Pride is known as Christopher Street Day (CSD)
Berlin Pride is known as Christopher Street Day (CSD)

Will Berlin get it’s gender neutral toilets?

Though Germany has voted to bring in same-sex marriage, it happened under a free vote for the countries members of parliament.

The countries Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who leads the Christian Democratic Unionists (CDU) voted against the move.

Steinart of the LSVD says the Christian Democrats have shifted to the right in recent months despite pursuing LGBTI friendly policy in the last legislative period.

‘The party argues that despite the direct impact on many citizens lives unisex toilets are not an urgent problem.

‘However, the new policy of the Berlin Senate [who commissioned the report] is a step in the right direction.

‘We commend the fact that even before the proposal of Justice Minister Behrendt many public institutions have already set up their own initiatives for unisex restrooms, including universities.

‘From our point of view, there is necessary support for unisex restrooms both from the political community and the younger generation of civil society.’

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