Surf Coast Shire to vote on ‘degendering’ public toilets

July 25, 2023 7:36 am in by
Bells toilet

The Surf Coast Shire is pushing ahead with a plan to make public toilets accessible to people identifying as non-binary.

Council says current laws that make toilets gender exclusive contravene the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, because it is discriminatory to provide facilities for some genders but not others.

Councillors had initially proposed to delete the shire’s local law that prohibits persons from an opposite sex from entering or using council amenities that have been ‘appropriated for persons of the opposite gender’, but a motion before tonight’s council meeting seeks to defer that approach.

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“As not everyone identifies as either ‘male’ or ‘female’, officers recommend deleting the local law so gender diverse people and children can access the facilities they choose,” the motion outlines.

“Deletion of the local law will, however, also remove the prohibition on men entering toilets ‘appropriated’ for women and vice-versa.”

Noting “strong evidence of community sentiment against” the original proposal, council has changed tack and is now seeking to amend the law to allow for several exceptions as to who can access toilets.

These include raising the age from 6 to 11 of children allowed to enter toilets of their opposite sex; allowing carers assisting people with disabilities to access facilities designated for a different gender; and an exemption for persons who do not identify with the genders of male or female.

Council says it’s received no objection to its provision for carers and its raising of the age for kids would “address concern about access to gendered facilities by children.”

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The final clause has been the subject of controversy though, council acknowledging an additional 562 signatures were added to the submission received at its June 27 meeting titled ‘Petition to the Coast Shire to Leave the Local Law on Men’s and Women’s Facilities Along’.

“Community submissions have cited potential impacts to community safety as a key concern,” council stated.

In justifying the latest law change Cr Heather Wellington, who’s moving the motion, says degendered facilities should be provided “for those who fall outside the male/female binary.”

“Unfortunately, it will be many years before the Shire can convert all existing toilets to safe and functional degendered facilities,” she said.

“In the meantime, the local law should provide for non-binary people to access facilities of their choice.”

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A separate council report on the local law changes raises concerns about the impact discussion of the issue is having on non-binary and gender diverse people.

“Members of our community who have experienced marginalisation have raised concerns that the public debate on this topic is having a negative impact on their wellbeing,” it stated.

Image: The Surf Coast Shire is seeking to ‘degender’ its public toilets (Surf Coast Shire Council).