A self-professed researcher of women’s rights has rubbished claims by Dundee City Council that it has had no complaints about the introduction of mixed-gender toilets in its new-build schools.
Susan Sinclair, who blogs under the handle of Scottish Women, claimed it was “inaccurate” to suggest Dundee City Council had received no complaints about mixed toilets, otherwise known as gender-neutral, which see boys, girls and transgender children mixing in the same washroom.
Ms Sinclair, who says she has written to the council herself to complain, claimed last year the authority was “violating children’s rights” in an interview with The Courier.
She said last February: “Girls are disproportionately impacted when their single sex spaces are taken away from them, with lack of privacy being an issue and more worryingly increased reports of sexual harassment.”
But in a response to the Tele, Dundee City Council says it has received no complaints about the introduction of mixed-gender toilets since April 2017.
The council has introduced gender-neutral toilets at Harris Academy and Baldragon Academy, as well as at Sidlaw View Primary and the North East Campus.
All also offer single-sex toilets save for Sidlaw View, which also has individual use accessible facilities.
Ms Sinclair claims complaints had gone “missing” from council records.
She said: “The best way to measure whether or not girls and young women are concerned about the mixed sex facilities within schools isn’t to go by the number of complaints they’ve received.
“If Dundee City Council want to know how their pupils feel then they should ask them, and more importantly this should have been done before any changes were made.”
She added: “Schools are required to provide sufficient numbers of separate toilet facilities for girls and boys.
“However there is nothing preventing schools from also providing additional mixed sex options to meet the needs of a small group of pupils who might benefit from this.”
Women’s organisations including Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have previously warned that offering too many gender-neutral toilets could “undermine the safety and dignity” of girls and put them at risk of sexual harassment.
But the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) advocacy group LGBT Youth Scotland says mixed-use toilets help transgender young people “feel comfortable” at school.
LGBTYS claims some transgender youngsters go home to use the toilet or refuse to drink water at all during school out of fear of being stigmatised by peers.
Advocacy group the Scottish Trans Alliance says gender-neutral loos are about more than just safeguarding people of all types.
James Morton, manager of the group, said: “We welcome reasonable constructive discussions on how to achieve safety for all children at school and urge people not to scapegoat trans children.”
Councillor Stewart Hunter, children and families convener at Dundee City Council, said he had been made aware of “no issues whatsoever” in the several years that mixed toilets have been in some city schools.
He said: “The key thing is the people using the toilets have no issue – and parents use them too, no problem.
“The one thing I’ve heard from the schools anecdotally is that it’s cutting down bullying because of the design and the way it all works.
“The frustration for the schools is that these facilities have operated for years and they’re hearing this sort of thing from people that have quite frankly never seen how they work.
“There are no issues with the pupils, staff are happy, and any complaints will be from people that not seen them for themselves.”