Toilets: He, She and Them?

Toilets: He, She and Them?

Yesterday, parliament passed a law making discrimination against trans people a crime. That highlights a question they have been asking: ‘Why are we denied access to public toilets?’

The sexual minorities are demanding gender-neutral toilets across Bengaluru, and that has raised a number of questions.

Members of the ‘third gender’ say they are humiliated and shooed away when they try to use public toilets.

Not having a separate toilet violates a fundamental right, they said at a campaign to mark Pride festival on Sunday.

The absence of gender-neutral toilets goes against the 2014 Supreme Court judgement in the National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India, experts say.

The court declared transgender people as a ‘third gender’ and directed the authorities to provide separate public toilets to them.

Which to choose?

Anirudh Gupta, co-founder of The Queer and Ally Network, identifies as a non-binary trans person. Using public toilets has always been a struggle for them.

“Having to choose which bathroom to go to, I feel unsafe in both the male and female toilets, but as a male presenting person, I am expected to use the men’s room. The weight of that discomfort is difficult on its own, without the constant glares I get at my relatively androgynous appearance once inside those toilets,” says Anirudh. As a consequence, they plan their day in such a way that they doesn’t have to use public toilets.

They say their appearance, sometimes, makes it a challenge for him to decide which toilet to use. “I am often wearing saris and skirts while sporting a beard, making the choice of toilet hard in itself. But the reactions I get from people is disturbing, no matter which bathroom I end up using,” Anirudh says.

Trans women have it tough too. Sushmitha was once beaten up for using a public toilet for women. “I was at Majestic bus stand when I tried to use a ladies’ toilet. Little did I know I would get beaten black and blue. Since then I have never attempted to use one,” she says. She faces a range of problems because of the restriction, and not drinking water causes dehydration.

Sasha Ranganath, a student who identifies as a non-binary person, feels people are prejudiced by the myth that there are only two genders. “I feel very uncomfortable using either men’s or women’s restrooms because I don’t identify with those genders. Gender-neutral washrooms will be helpful in alleviating my anxiety,” says Sasha . Most of the time, they don't drink and eat. “When I have to go, I just hold it in until I am back home. This is unhealthy but it is far better than trying to choose which washroom to enter based on which is less frightening,” says Sasha.

Shubha Chacko, executive director, Solidarity Foundation, who works among trans people, recollects an incident where a young trans man, employed at a courier company, had to quit because he was caught using the wrong toilet. “The company decided he was irresponsible. What he could not tell them was that his job took him to different corners of the city but there were no toilets he could use. This is an example of the impact of the lack of gender-neutral toilets. It curbs mobility, affects employment and causes health problems,” Shubha told Metrolife.

She points out that trans people often cannot even walk into restaurants to use the toilet. For those who work on the street, the lack of toilets means they drink less water, and go on for hours without urinating. Some try to find some corner to urinate-but there are many risks, including that of being assaulted, she says.

Shubha says the problem could have a deep psychological impact on trans people. “It is similar to what people with disability face because of the lack of toilets they can use,” she says. 

Jayna Kothari, senior advocate, says public spaces must compulsorily have toilets for trans people. “Not having such basic facilities and denying them the use of existing ones is a violation of the fundamental right to life and dignity. For instance, if a person identifies as a trans woman, she must not be denied the right to use a women’s toilet,” says Jayna. 

BBMP mulling idea

Randeep D, special commissioner, BBMP, says the BBMP is thinking of building gender-neutral toilets. “There has been a proposal in this regard for a while now. We are also obliged to carry out the Supreme Court ruling. We have to either redesign or restructure the existing toilets to accommodate the ‘third gender’ or build a new one,” Randeep tells Metrolife.

What Supreme Court says 

The Supreme Court has affirmed that the fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India would be equally applicable to transgender people. It has also directed the Central and state governments to provide reservation in education and employment.

Are gender-neutral toilets safe?

Vinay Chandran, executive director of Swabhava, an NGO working with LGBT rights, says the question of practicality must be considered with the question of safety. “Creating a separate toilet ends up highlighting transgender identity, which in turn makes public spaces unsafe for them,” he says. Any effort to resolve this must start with creating awareness about the problem, Chandran told Metrolife.

Historic moment 

Parliament on Tuesday passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill of 2019, with the Rajya Sabha approving it by a voice vote. The bill defines a transgender person as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. The law criminalises discrimination against a transgender person in education, employment, healthcare, movement and right to reside.  

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