Restroom for trans* and inter people: the third toilet option

In Bavaria, some schools are to have toilets for a third gender in addition to those for boys and girls. The concept is controversial.

Would you rather have unisex toilets for everyone or a third loo? Photo: Getty Images

"You have to think into the future," says Andrea Lehner. She is a school construction consultant and has suggested to the Bavarian municipality of Pullach that it install toilets for children of the third sex in the elementary and middle school that is to be newly built. For Lehner, this is a matter of course. He says it will be at least six years before the new school building is up and running. And then "there will be children who will proudly identify with the third gender," she says. "And for those children, of course, we need restrooms."

With that, Lehner has sparked a debate. Following initial media reports, the AfD Bavaria wrote on Facebook that "transsexualization" was entering the next round: "Eager trans activists are now beginning to wage a battle for the toilets, as if there were a serious problem of gender-specific oppression there." A psychologist is also critical: Munich child psychologist Klaus Neumann told dpa that he is not aware of any serious investigations or studies that prove that elementary school children are already aware of gender differentiation.

In Bavaria, Andrea Lehner proposed the third toilet because the Bundestag passed a law recognizing a third gender at the end of 2018. Parents can register their newborn child as "diverse" at the registry office if it cannot be assigned to either the male or female gender.

Construction solution for diverse children to come

"In Pullach, we’re open-minded," says Swantje Schutz, spokeswoman for the city of Pullach, "but exactly how we’ll implement a restroom for the third gender is still completely unclear." A structural solution for diverse children is to come, or so the advisory committee for the creation of a school space concept, which Andrea Lehner heads, has suggested. The paper says: "Student and teacher restrooms, handicapped restroom, single restroom for 3rd gender."

The fact that restrooms are a place where they are discriminated against is something that trans and inter people report over and over again

But this section, which mentions the third toilet, is only one detail of the detailed concept, emphasizes spokeswoman Schutz. The concept was unanimously approved by the Pullach municipal council at the end of January. Now a feasibility study for the new building will be commissioned. "The architects have to propose exactly how the toilets will be laid out," says Lehner. So whether there will be a unisex toilet for everyone or a separate third toilet just for various children is still open, he says. Meanwhile, according to a report in the Munchner Merkur, the communities of Taufkirchen and Garching are also planning toilet solutions for diverse children in newly built schools.

That toilets are a place where they are discriminated against is something trans and inter people report again and again. This was also the case in a study published by the Bundesvereinigung Trans* in January. For it, more than 1,500 people who identify as trans or non-binary were surveyed. According to the study, almost half of the participants experience gender-segregated restrooms as discriminatory. One in three people surveyed said the same about segregated changing rooms.

Which solution is the best?

"At school, there are difficult situations for trans and inter students wherever two genders are separated, for example in swimming lessons, in sports lessons and in locker rooms," says Elena Kuhley. As project manager of the ABqueer association, she advises teachers in further training courses on sexual and gender diversity. If students come out as trans or inter, schools are sometimes overwhelmed: Can the trans girl who was previously in the boys’ locker room now join the girls? Such questions are often decided on a case-by-case basis; uniform regulations are lacking, says Kuhley.

What is disputed is which spatial restroom solution is best. On the one hand, the third toilet for diverse children would be possible, on the other hand, a unisex toilet where all children could go. "Basically, anything that increases visibility and creates safe spaces is good," says Caroline Ausserer, spokesperson for the German Trans* Association. Students should become aware that there is more than just male and female. This can never be started early enough, she adds.

"It must be possible for people to go to the toilet without having to explain themselves first in the usual toilets," says Stefanie Klement, chairwoman of the association Intersexuelle Menschen. She welcomes the proposal for a third toilet. Elena Kuhley from ABqueer thinks that everyone involved should be sensitized: "Schools should not focus on the one or two people who have come out as trans and inter, but rather educate all students," she says. This creates understanding for the needs of outed students.

The Hainberg Gymnasium in Gottingen has decided to introduce unisex toilets. "Last year we noticed that some students felt the need for this," says student representative Linus Steinmetz. The student council therefore suggested installing unisex toilets. Two facilities that were previously intended for girls and boys have been converted. They can only be used by one person at a time and can be locked from the inside. The rooms were opened in September.

"The overall atmosphere at the school is more tolerant than before," Steinmetz says. He says that’s because his classmates began discussing gender roles as a result of the restroom remodel. Some asked who was allowed to use the restroom, he says. "Then I said: everyone can use it. Even me as a cis man," says Steinmetz. Principal Georg Bartelt is satisfied: "Out of twelve toilet facilities in the building, we’ve upgraded two facilities to unisex toilets, so that doesn’t take anything away from anyone."

Politicians react cautiously

Despite the good experiences in Gottingen, politicians have so far reacted cautiously to the proposal for a third toilet. Even in Berlin, where the red-red-green state government is committed to promoting trans and inter people in schools, the proposal for a third toilet has gone unheard. Sebastian Walter, a member of Berlin’s House of Representatives and spokesman for the Green Party’s anti-discrimination and queer policy, says he believes the issue is being completely overloaded symbolically.

He pleads for a pragmatic approach. "The question is, is there a need for this? Is there a need?" he says. If parents and children saw this need, schools could decide for themselves to install such a toilet. Education Senator Sandra Scheeres (SPD) and the Senator for Anti-Discrimination, Dirk Behrendt (Greens), did not want to comment to dpa.

"At school, children should learn in an unagitated way that there are women, men and people who do not feel they clearly belong to one of these two genders," says Karin Prien (CDU), Minister of Education in Schleswig-Holstein. If the question of a third toilet arises in a school, she said, a solution will be found there with the school board. "In individual cases, this can also be a unisex offer," Prien said.

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