New U.K. mandate reverses the rise of gender-neutral bathrooms


New U.K. mandate reverses the rise of gender-neutral bathrooms


Kemi Badenoch, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Business and Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities, made a controversial announcement last week mandating that new supermarkets, shops, and restaurants, and other “new non-domestic public and private buildings” offer “separate single-sex toilets facilities” for men and women. The ruling comes amid a growing trend in restroom design toward gender-neutral bathrooms where spaces aren’t assigned to one gender, and rest facilities line a shared corridor rather than get broken up into separate male slash female waiting areas.

Stonewall, a trans rights group, says gender-neutral bathrooms ensure that non-binary individuals “have access to facilities without fear of discrimination.” In 2017, London mayor Sadiq Khan prioritized gender-neutral toilets across London, later codifying them in his 2020/21 London Plan. Since taking office, both Badenoch and Tory PM Rishi Sunak have sought to curtail trans rights. Sunak himself has come under fire for making hateful jokes about trans people.

Since the announcement, both Badenoch and Sunak have earned the nickname “Lavatory Tsar.” According to a press release, gender-neutral bathrooms put women, specifically pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly at a disadvantage. Thus, restoring single-sex restrooms is meant to assuage “dignity and privacy concerns” for people who “feel they are being unfairly disadvantaged” by the emerging trend in bathroom design, the press release continued. “It is important that everybody has privacy and dignity when using public facilities. Yet the move towards ‘gender neutral’ toilets has removed this fundamental right for women and girls,” Badenoch said. 

Badenoch’s ruling goes against public opinion, however. Trans activists point to a recent survey that showed 83 percent of U.K. residents in fact support gender-neutral facilities. 

Badenoch, a Tory, has leveraged her position of power on several occasions to target the trans community. Last July, Badenoch suggested that teachers in the U.K. report trans students to the authorities, much like what elected officials in Florida and Texas are proposing today

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met Kemi Badenoch in April 2023 to discuss curtailing trans rights. (Government of Florida/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Badenoch’s latest decision to abolish gender-neutral bathrooms has sparked outrage in the U.K.’s LGBTQ+ community. James Factora wrote in them that the ruling is trying to “reverse the rise of gender-neutral toilets.” We Exist, a British trans advocacy group founded in 2020, has been fighting the legislation since it was first proposed last year.

The controversy comes amid other attacks on trans rights that London architects may be familiar with. This summer, multidisciplinary designer Adam Nathaniel Furman called for a boycott against the Young Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London after its director Tristan Hunt ordered that trans-affirming books and posters be removed from the premises. Last July, museum officials withdrew Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life (2022) by Rowan Ellis and Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression (2022) by Iris Gottlieb from V&A‘s youth-focused bookstore while a poster that declared “Some people are Trans. Get over it!” was also removed.

Meanwhile in British Parliament, Kemi Badenoch hopes to change the definition of “sex” in the U.K.’s Equality Act meant to combat discrimination against trans individuals. Her newest mandate against gender-neutral bathrooms will go into effect only in England next year after a trial period.