Gender-Neutral Loos for 2 British Cities

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By Vittorio Hernandez | February 19, 2013 9:51 AM EST

In the 1980s, a popular British gag show topbilled by Benny Hill had a joke that showed the comedian adding the letters R E N to the HER sign on a public toilet. Herren is German for mister. By creating confusion, the viewers had a laugh because males entered the toilet for women and caused embarrassment and panic.

Toilet gender sign pranks, in fact, are staples of gag shows such as this one from Just for Laughs which had generated almost 10 million hits in YouTube.

However, comedy shows may no longer be able to play changing gender signs on doors of public loos tricks in two British cities because its councils are coming up with gender-neutral toilets.

The Brighton and Hove City Councils plan to replace the usual male and female lavatories with gender-neutral toilets to make it easier for the cities' transgenders.

Instead of the words MEN or LADIES, the new loos to be built would have the images of a male, female and child as an indicator anyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference could use the toilet.

The gender-neutral loos would initially be tried along a block on Rottingdean seafront in East Sussex. The councils of the two cities said it is an attempt to be political correct, but their proposal has met criticisms.

Besides building four such types of lavatories, the council also plans to construct a café. The project, to be jointly funded by the Rottingdean Parish Council and the Brighton City Council, is estimated to cost £140,000. Construction is scheduled to start this week.

Among those opposed to the plan is Conservative Councillor Lynda Hyde who called the venture as unnecessary bureaucracy.

"Local residents, particularly women with children, would much prefer to use separate facilities as part from anything else, it is safer," The Daily Telegraph quoted Ms Hyde.

"If the male/female symbols, rather than any text, are to be used on the toilet then this avoids any confusion, so why is the council muddying the waters by insisting they are called gender-neutral, which will mean nothing to most people?" she pointed out.

The construction phase is scheduled to run for 12 weeks. The move is expected to benefit Brighton's gay, lesbian and transgender population estimated at about 40,000. It is also expected to help foreign tourist unfamiliar with the English language to find images on the loo doors rather than words.

The project is supported by the Green Party and adds to the growing move to be more sensitive to the needs of the LGBT community. In 2012, the Trans Equality Scrutiny Panel recommended the prohibition on the use of titles that identify a person's gender such as Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms.

"Trans people aren't necessarily male or female and sometimes they don't want to be defined by the gender," Brisbane Times quoted Green Party Deputy Leader Phelim MacCafferty.

The issue of gender-neutral toilets had actually been tackled several years ago by different groups.

Many people who grew up in homes with just one toilet and bathroom would probably find no big deal over the issue since they have gotten used to sharing the facility with other family members of both genders.

Some schools and offices had gone ahead and put in place gender-neutral loos such as the King County School.

It is also not a new concept since toilets in planes, trains and buses are for use by any gender, in the process saving space and cost for the operator of these places frequented by the traveling public.

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