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Middlesbrough to trial gender-neutral toilets

Gender neutral toilets, like this one in Oxford, are being trialled in Middlesbrough. Credit: Credit: Aidan Melville/St Catherine's College

Gender-neutral toilets are to be trialled by Middlesbrough Council after a Conservative councillor petitioned the town's mayor.

Middlesbrough's independent mayor, Andy Preston, has agreed to a trial in council buildings following a meeting with Conservative councillor for Coulby Newham, Dave Smith.

The local authority is planning to roll out the changes in council buildings by making disabled toilets "open access" while maintaining gender-specific toilets.

Following his meeting with Cllr Smith on Tuesday, Mayor Andy Preston said:

It's really important that we look after minorities, while naturally we have to bear in mind what the majority want.

Having had a number of discussions with those who use wheelchairs, they seem very comfortable with the idea of toilets for those with disabilities being labelled as inclusive facilities, regardless of gender.

I've therefore agreed to introduce an initial trial period within Middlesbrough Council buildings in the near future. I'll then review the arrangements with Cllr Smith.

– Andy Preston, Middlebrough

Cllr Smith had called for Middlesbrough to become a gender-neutral town and asked the mayor to make a start by designating all council building toilets as gender-neutral.

Following Tueday's meeting, Cllr Smith said:

This morning I had a constructive meeting with the mayor on the topic of gender-neutral toilets.

I very much look forward to working with the mayor to deliver a positive environment for all of the citizens in Middlesbrough.

Over the last 24 hours, I have listened and read the public's concerns. But I maintain the view that gender-neutral toilets does not increase the threat to public safety.

In fact, gender neutral toilets already exist in Middlesbrough such as Starbucks to very little fuss.

"This is all about creating a positive environment for everyone to use public facilities without fear or humiliation."

– Councillor Dave Smith

Cllr Smith's campaign has been backed by LGBT charity Hart Gables.

In a statement a spokesperson for the charity said:

Hart Gables have been proactive in encouraging organisations to have gender-neutral toilets.

Therefore we would support this action within council buildings.

– Hart Gables

It is within our training packages that we discuss the use of gender-neutral toilets, and encourage services to have toilets that are accessible to all."

Mayor Preston's trial mirrors the advice of Ellie Lowther, director of Trans Aware Training, who said the situation was complicated by the fact that while some trans people are binary - identifying as either male or female - others are non-binary, identifying as neither.

I think it's a difficult situation," she said.

Currently there's no law in place that restricts anyone from using any toilets at all.

I would say, if you had gender-neutral toilets it would be brilliant for non-binary people.

But it needs to be thought about carefully.

One simple solution that would be to rename disabled toilets as open access toilets and leave it so that binary men and women's needs are met with access to gendered toilets."

– Ellie Lowther, Trans Aware Training