By Tom Fenton
The toilets are located on Floor D underneath the stairs.
Laura Carter, the Union’s Community Officer, told Palatinate: “We re-allocated existing toilets as gender-neutral toilets last year after requests from students and the LGBT association.
“It is important that we respect and adapt to the changing needs of our members and we hope this will be a small step in creating a more inclusive and accessible environment for students. The original signage was inadvertently removed so we put up new signage this month.”
The Union would not comment further on the removal of the sign, saying only: “The signage was originally put up approximately one year ago and we are unsure when it was taken down.”
Phil Mullen, Executive member at Durham Pride and 1st year PhD student, told Palatinate: “We at Durham Pride are delighted that the University has taken this step to promote inclusion and free expression for trans* people, who are often an afterthought in the LGBTQ community.
“Toilets are one site which impose a gender-binary onto people. For many trans* people this gender binary just does not fit.
“It is a false choice, and furthermore some people may be made to feel uncomfortable by others in choosing a single-sex toilet.
“Gender neutral toilets challenge this false choice for everyone, making everyone feel more included.”
Durham’s LGBTA Association has been campaigning for gender-neutral toilets.
Thom Addinall-Biddulph, President of Durham’s LGBT Association, confirmed to Palatinate: “the association had been “involved in discussions” for some time “as it was our principal campaign a couple of years ago.”
He continued: “We think the gender neutral toilets are a fantastic step forward for the university community at large that has the potential to be of broad benefit in reducing discrimination and making people think about gender issues.
“We have in the past campaigned on to the University by pushing them to consider the issue and work out potential sites for such toilets, so are very glad to see this step taken.
“Anyone who questions their gender, or is trans*, is likely to often face abuse and discrimination because of ingrained cultural views about gender roles and gender essentialism.
“The view that the genders are fundamentally, biologically different is a view science is rapidly proving to be pretty wrong except in certain obvious ways such as different genitalia.
“This includes trans* people being told they cannot use facilities reserved for the gender they identify as because they ‘look like’ their birth gender, or being misgendered in conversation; verbal abuse, and, sadly, physical abuse can happen if people are visibly seen to not be conforming to established gender roles such as men wearing skirts, or women not shaving their body hair.
“More than anything, people simply not understanding the idea of gender as a fluid social construct is a major problem that needs working on.”
Photograph: Venus Loi