Trans-people welcome the decision for separate toilets, but need gender-neutral toilets
The Delhi government has mandated that all its departments, offices, district authorities, municipal corporations, state-run companies and the Delhi Police have separate and exclusive washrooms for transgender persons. The order further stated that trans-people shall continue to be allowed to use gender-based toilets as per their self-identified gender. The agencies have been given a maximum time of two years to build these exclusive toilets.
For 38-year old trans-woman Simran Shaikh, using public restrooms pre as well as post transition was a nightmare. “It is a brilliant move; using washrooms which were not actually assigned to you, both before transition and after transition, was very difficult. It was stigmatising to use the men’s washroom before transitioning, and now to use the women’s washroom attracts questions. We are moving towards a progressive India and such initiatives create a beautiful impact. We feel included that we are counted within the system and that the system is thinking about you,” she says.
There is, however, an opinion about gender-neutrality. Grace Banu, a 34-year old trans-woman, questions, “What about trans-men and queer people? We don’t need separate toilets; we need gender-neutral toilets. These schemes have little impact.”
The need for gender-neutral toilets is felt strongly, but more so for creating change in the mindsets. Trans rights activist Abhina Aher says, “It is a welcome change. Providing facilities for transgenders for a basic necessity is very well appreciated, but I think more work needs to be done. The governments need to look into the prioritisation of trans-community needs. Think about the bigger change and other changes will happen. Some trans-people feel that with these separate toilets, you are further stigmatising them.” She adds that in areas where separate toilets cannot be made, then at least one toilet should be made gender-neutral.
Stressing on fundamental rights, Shreegauri Sawant, who runs a shelter home for children of sex workers in Mumbai, says that though it will help create a safe space for trangenders, separate washrooms come with their perils. “It is a good move, but security is very important. How will you ensure that trans-men and trans-women are not using it for nefarious activities? Sirf toilet banaa dena solution nahi hai. Have a security guard and allow only one person at a time,” she says and adds that the area and location also matter. “Separate toilets in office and malls would be safe, but what about highways?” she questions.
While the decision has drawn mixed reviews, people who have been working to bring about change believe that no decisions should be made without involving the people the decisions are being made for. Activist Harish Iyer is of the opinion that the needs of trans-men and trans-women should be evaluated. “I wish to know how many trans-women and trans-men were consulted before making this suggestion. Did they check with trans-people if they need all-gender restrooms, the freedom to use a restroom of their choice, or a separate restroom with a sign labelled transgender? The point I am making is no decision about them should be made without them,” he says, stressing upon the need for creating awareness around the community and their needs.
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