Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 21:07 UK

'De-gendered' toilets spark row

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The ladies and gents are now called "toilets" and "toilets with urinals"

A row has broken out at the University of Manchester after its students' union toilets were "de-gendered".

Temporary signs have made the "ladies" simply "toilets", while the "gents" have become "toilets with urinals".

The changes are in response to an unspecified number of complaints from trans students who are uncomfortable using the men's toilets.

A university newspaper criticised the move but the student union said it was needed to tackle transphobia.

There are no figures on the number of transsexual and transgender students believed to be among the university's population of more than 35,000 students.

The students' union welfare office declined to reveal the number of complaints, but said it was an important issue.

Student Direct editorial
A student newspaper editorial questioned the wisdom of the move

Women's officer Jennie Killip told the BBC: "If you were born female, still present quite feminine, but define as a man you should be able to go into the men's toilets - if that's how you define.

"You don't necessarily have had to have gender reassignment surgery, but you could just define yourself as a man, feel very masculine in yourself, feel that in fact being a woman is not who you are."

Asked about the change, some female students questioned the move.

One said: "Girls might not want to use the same toilets as boys, so then you just end up with people complaining about that - so you can't really win.

Another told the BBC: "I personally wouldn't want to be in the same toilet as a man."

The move prompted an editorial in campus newspaper Student Direct last week which criticised the new arrangements.

Newspaper spokeswoman Susannah Birkwood said: "The toilets have been provided for men who don't self identify as men and women who don't think of themselves as women.

"Whether or not this is political correctness gone mad.. because it certainly seems that way to some members of our student community."

Union officials have rejected the criticism and permanent signs for its first gender neutral toilets are being made.

Almost 60 people, including Ms Killip, have signed a letter to the student newspaper criticising the editorial.


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