May 29, 2024
In a move set to impact new non-residential buildings in England, the government has proposed legislation mandating separate male and female toilets. This initiative, led by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, aims to address concerns over privacy and dignity raised by various groups. However, the proposal has sparked significant debate, particularly among transgender rights groups. This article delves into the details of the proposed law, its motivations, potential impacts, and future implications.

Historical Context and Current Situation

The Rise of Gender-Neutral Toilets

In recent years, there has been a notable shift towards gender-neutral toilets in public spaces across England. These facilities were designed to accommodate individuals who do not conform to traditional gender binaries, providing an inclusive environment for transgender and non-binary people. Gender-neutral toilets typically feature shared cubicles and sinks, allowing anyone to use them regardless of gender.

Concerns and Challenges

While gender-neutral toilets were implemented with inclusivity in mind, they have not been universally accepted. A government consultation, which garnered 17,000 responses, highlighted several issues. Women, the elderly, and disabled individuals expressed concerns about being disadvantaged by these facilities. They cited increased waiting times, reduced privacy, and diminished dignity as significant drawbacks.

According to Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, “These regulations will guide organisations to design unisex and single-sex toilets, ending the rise of so-called gender-neutral mixed-sex toilet spaces, which deny privacy and dignity to both men and women.”

The Proposed Legislation

Key Requirements

The new legislation mandates that new non-residential buildings, such as restaurants, shopping centres, and offices, must have separate male and female toilets. Where space allows, these buildings can also include universal toilets—self-contained rooms with a toilet and sink for individual use. If there is insufficient space for both single-sex and universal toilets, only the latter may be provided.


Certain facilities are exempt from the new regulations. These include residential homes, ensuite facilities in individual rooms for residential purposes, cells in custodial facilities, premises used mainly for early years provision, and schools. Existing buildings will not be affected by this change.

Government’s Rationale

The government’s decision is grounded in feedback from the consultation, where 81% of respondents supported separate single-sex toilet facilities, and 82% agreed with the provision of universal toilets where space allows. The government argues that gender-neutral facilities have led to longer queues, decreased choice, and reduced privacy and dignity.


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Perspectives and Implications

Support for the Legislation

Advocates for the new law believe it represents a return to common sense and addresses legitimate concerns. Maya Forstater, CEO of the campaign group Sex Matters, remarked, “Single-sex toilets offer privacy, dignity, and peace of mind for both sexes, but they’re especially important for women and girls.”

Proponents argue that separate facilities better accommodate biological, health, and sanitary needs, particularly for women. Women’s Health Minister Maria Caulfield emphasised, “This is an important issue for women,” underscoring the government’s commitment to addressing these concerns.

Moreover, safety and comfort in public spaces are significant considerations. Women, in particular, have raised issues about feeling vulnerable in mixed-gender environments. The Women’s Institute, representing a large segment of women across the UK, has supported the call for single-sex toilets, citing concerns over harassment and the need for secure spaces for women and girls.

Opposition and Concerns

Conversely, transgender rights groups and allies have voiced strong opposition to the legislation. They argue that gender-neutral toilets are vital for protecting transgender and non-binary individuals from discrimination and harassment. Read more about the current state trans rights legislation in the UK here

Mermaids, a transgender youth support charity, stated, “In order to ensure everyone is served fairly and that everyone can feel comfortable using public toilet facilities, not only are gender-specific facilities in which trans people can feel safe in using vital, but gender-neutral facilities are also greatly necessary to ensure non-binary people’s experiences with toilet facilities are one of comfort.”

Galop, an organisation supporting LGBT+ victims of abuse, highlighted the potential risks of the new law. They noted that many transgender individuals avoid using public toilets due to fear of attack, leading to health risks from dehydration. Galop also raised concerns about cisgender women being harassed based on perceptions of their gender.

Furthermore, opponents argue that the law exacerbates issues of exclusion and discrimination. By enforcing single-sex facilities, transgender and non-binary individuals may face increased scrutiny and barriers when accessing public amenities. The fear of being challenged or confronted can lead to heightened anxiety and avoidance of public spaces, further marginalising these communities.

Broader Societal Impact

The debate over single-sex versus gender-neutral toilets is part of a larger conversation about transgender rights and gender identity. The proposed law is seen by some as part of a broader conservative agenda that seeks to limit the rights and freedoms of transgender individuals. Critics argue that framing trans rights and women’s rights as being in opposition is harmful and divisive.

Future Forecast

Implementation and Enforcement

If the legislation is approved, it will come into force later this year. New non-residential buildings and those undergoing major refurbishment will need to comply with the new requirements. The enforcement of these regulations will likely involve building inspections and approvals to ensure compliance.

Potential Revisions and Challenges

As the legislation is implemented, it may face legal challenges from advocacy groups and individuals who believe it infringes on the rights of transgender and non-binary people. These challenges could lead to revisions or additional provisions to address the concerns of all stakeholders.

Long-Term Implications

The long-term impact of this legislation will depend on how it is received by the public and how effectively it addresses the concerns it aims to solve. If successful, it could lead to similar regulations in other regions or sectors. However, if it fails to adequately balance the needs of different groups, further policy changes and debates are likely.


The proposed single-sex toilet law in England represents a significant shift in public building regulations, aiming to address privacy and dignity concerns raised by various groups. While it has garnered substantial support, particularly from those advocating for women’s safety and privacy, it has also faced strong opposition from transgender rights groups.

The ultimate success of this legislation will hinge on its ability to balance these competing interests and create an inclusive environment for all. As the debate continues, it remains a critical issue for policymakers, advocacy groups, and the public.


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