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What's Going On? The Curb Effect of Gender-Neutral Toilets

I chose the title for this article from the song by the 4 Non-Blondes as I sit to write a new essay about toilets, washrooms, or bathrooms, if you prefer.

Here are the articles I have written in 2023 that include this topic.

24th May - Diversity Fatigue

After a recent public speaking engagement, an audience member asked about the UK government's reversal on advice for new buildings to be built with Gender Neutral Toilets.

Badenoch's July 2022, the UK government on gender-neutral toilets primarily fell within the scope of the Equality Act 2010. This act outlines provisions related to equality and anti-discrimination, including requirements pertaining to facilities like toilets.

Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers, including businesses and public entities, must make reasonable adjustments to ensure their services are accessible to everyone, including people with diverse gender identities. This could include providing gender-neutral or accessible toilets to accommodate individuals who may not identify with traditional gender binaries.

Separate unisex (or universal) toilets should be provided if there is space, but they should not come at the expense of female toilets.

This noted reversal comes after a report, Toilet provision for men and women: call for evidence, was released on 13th August 2023.

Kemi Badenoch's comments from 4th July 2022 state, "The Government believes the proposals that we are minded to adopt will have positive equality outcomes for women, older people, pregnant women, those with babies, people who come under the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, and disabled people."

It" is essential to note that under the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristic only mentions Transsexual persons and not the word Transgender persons. However, notes accompanying the act provide further clarification.

Here is the current language from section 7 of the Equality Act 2010.

Gender reassignment

(1)A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

(2)A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

(3)In relation to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment—

(a)a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a transsexual person;

(b)a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to transsexual persons.

The term "transexual" was first used in the early 1900s by Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexologist. Hirschfeld defined transexuals as people who strongly desire to live as the opposite sex. They may identify as the opposite sex from the sex assigned at birth and seek medical or surgical treatment to change their sex. Transexuals may also experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of distress or discomfort caused by the incongruence between their gender identity and sex assigned at birth." (read more)

Transgender is an umbrella term which also includes transsexual persons. Not all transgender persons identify as transsexual, and not all of them experience gender dysphoria.

The Equality Act 2010 does not acknowledge social transitioning, but the notes to the act do and have been used by employment tribunals to recognise the importance of social transitioning in addition to medical and surgical transition.

The notes and examples within the notes say,

Section 7: Gender reassignment

41. This section defines the protected characteristic of gender reassignment for the purposes of the Act as where a person has proposed, started or completed a process to change his or her sex. A transsexual person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

42. The section also explains that a reference to people who have or share the common characteristic of gender reassignment is a reference to all transsexual people. A woman making the transition to being a man and a man making the transition to being a woman both share the characteristic of gender reassignment, as does a person who has only just started out on the process of changing his or her sex and a person who has completed the process.


43. This section replaces similar provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 but changes the definition by no longer requiring a person to be under medical supervision to come within it.

  • A person who was born physically male decides to spend the rest of his life living as a woman. He declares his intention to his manager at work, who makes appropriate arrangements, and she then starts life at work and home as a woman. After a discussion with her doctor and a Gender Identity Clinic, she starts hormone treatment, and after several years, she goes through gender reassignment surgery. She would have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment for the purposes of the Act.

  • A person who was born physically female decides to spend the rest of her life as a man. He starts and continues to live as a man. He decides not to seek medical advice as he successfully ‘passes' as a man without the need for any medical intervention. He would have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment for the purposes of the Act.

In the last example, He socially transitioned but did not medically or surgically transition. So Kemi Badenoch speaking if the only relevant legal language is for a fractional part of the community that medically and surgically transition is grossly inaccurate.

Stonewall's latest report on the state of the trans community in Britain, Trans in Britain 2023, estimates that there are between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK. This represents between 0.3% and 0.8% of the population.

A 2018 study published in the journal "PLOS One" found that 23% of transgender people in the United Kingdom had undergone gender reassignment surgery, while 47% had undergone some form of hormone therapy.

It is important to note that not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria, and not all transgender people who experience gender dysphoria choose to undergo medical or surgical treatment.

Based upon this data, that means out of the estimated 500,000 trans people, about 115,000 should have the right to continue to use the toilet using this new decree as of August 2023, as they should have always been able to do. The notes clarify the broad definition, which means everyone who social, medically, or surgical transition should have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

One challenge is that notes are not part of the legal text. They are meant to help with interpretation of the legal text.

Any attempt to modify the Equality Act 2010 and diminish this guidance puts a very marginalised group at significant risk, which is why there is always an uproar when it is mentioned.

Kemi Badenoch makes specific mention of universal toilets over gender-neutral toilets. In practice, I have seen gender-neutral toilets be either an individual stall or a fully enclosed facility. While both universal toilets and gender-neutral toilets promote inclusivity and accessibility, universal toilets focus on providing accessible facilities for everyone, including those with disabilities, while gender-neutral toilets specifically address the needs of individuals with diverse gender identities. Both types of facilities aim to create more inclusive and welcoming environments in public spaces.

The industry is confused with this approach by the minister. An article from Architect's Journal has a headline, "Government bans gender-neutral toilets in all new public buildings". As the minister said in her comments, this is incorrect: "Separate unisex (or universal) toilets should be provided if there is space, but should not come at the expense of female toilets."

From all of this very detailed information and looking at the minister's past actions in government, one can assume that while the laws seem to provide protection under the Equality Act 2010 for the estimated 115,000 transexual persons, the remaining 385,000 persons expected to use a bathroom matching their sex assigned at birth, not their identity now. That could mean some very masculine-looking transgender men using the women's toilets, not to mention the impact on butch and more masculine-presenting lesbians who do not meet the stereotypical look of a female.

All of this ignores the "curb effect" that gender-neutral bathrooms can have.

The "curb effect" refers to the positive social impact that lowered curbs or curb cuts, often associated with improved accessibility for disabled individuals, have had on society as a whole. Lowered curbs are sloped or ramped sections of sidewalks or curbs that allow for smoother transitions between street level and sidewalk level. These curb cuts primarily benefit people with mobility impairments, such as wheelchair users, individuals with mobility aids, and parents with strollers. However, their benefits extend beyond the disabled community to benefit a broader range of people. Here's an explanation of the curb effect and some examples of non-disabled individuals who have benefited:

  1. Improved Mobility for All Pedestrians: Lowered curbs make it easier for everyone to move around urban environments. They provide a more convenient route for pedestrians, making it easier for people to navigate sidewalks, cross streets, and access public transportation. This benefit is particularly significant for people carrying heavy bags, pushing shopping carts, or using wheeled luggage.

  2. Elderly Population: The elderly, who may have reduced mobility or use mobility aids like walkers or canes, benefit from lowered curbs. These curb cuts make it safer and more accessible for seniors to walk in urban areas, promoting their independence and reducing the risk of falls.

  3. Parents with Strollers: Parents pushing strollers or prams find lowered curbs essential for crossing streets and navigating sidewalks. The smooth transition provided by curb cuts allows parents to move more easily with their children, ensuring their safety.

  4. Cyclists: Cyclists also benefit from curb cuts when transitioning between bike lanes, sidewalks, or streets. This makes cycling more accessible in urban areas and promotes environmentally friendly transportation options.

  5. Delivery and Service Workers: Workers who make deliveries, such as postal carriers, food delivery personnel, and couriers, rely on smooth curb cuts to access buildings and homes efficiently. This enhances the efficiency of their work and improves overall service quality.

  6. Temporary Injuries or Conditions: People with temporary injuries, such as individuals using crutches or recovering from surgeries, benefit from curb cuts during their recovery periods. These individuals may not identify as disabled but find these accessibility features helpful during their healing process.

  7. Emergency Situations: In emergency situations, such as evacuations or when first responders need to move quickly, curb cuts provide a smooth and efficient path for all individuals to navigate streets and sidewalks.

The curb effect highlights how making urban environments more accessible for disabled individuals has ripple effects throughout society, benefiting a wide range of people. By promoting inclusivity and equal access to public spaces, lowered curbs enhance the overall quality of life for everyone in the community, regardless of their disability status.

Safety Concerns

There have been a few studies about gender-neutral bathrooms and women's safety. One study published in the journal "Criminology & Public Policy" in 2017 found that there was no increase in sexual assault or other crimes in gender-neutral bathrooms on college campuses. Another study published in the journal "PLOS One" in 2016 found that transgender women were less likely to be harassed or assaulted in gender-neutral bathrooms than in single-sex women's bathrooms.

The Last Word

In this insightful article, we discussed the changing landscape of gender-neutral toilets and recent policy changes made by the UK government. We delved into the reversal of government advice regarding these facilities. The article also introduces the "curb effect" concept and addresses safety concerns in gender-neutral toilets, citing research findings. This comprehensive exploration offers a nuanced perspective on this debated issue, advocating for policies that prioritize inclusivity and respect for all gender identities.


With over 25 years of experience in corporate and board leadership, including the past seven years focused on supporting the LGBTQ+ community and women's rights, I am available to speak, mentor, or consult. Please contact me at with any inquiries.

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