Call for gender-neutral toilets in schools
The Australian, August 17, 2016
Researchers who read stories about gender transitioning to children as young as five are calling for all state schools to introduce gender-neutral toilets.
Work by Flinders University academics, revealed in The Australian yesterday, has drawn criticism for introducing Year 1 students to books with transgender characters, such as mothers transitioning to fathers, and concluding that the Safe Schools program should be rolled into primary schools despite the transgender books confusing some of the students involved in an Adelaide trial.
Authors Clare Bartholomaeus, Damien Riggs and Yarrow Andrew have also called for resources about gender diversity, such as picture books, to be made available to preschool, primary and secondary students, as well as other measures to help schools “create inclusive whole school cultures”.
They recommend South Australia’s Education Department, which approved and organised their study, redesign toilets on all education sites as they are upgraded or newly built to better support gender diversity.
The issue of gender neutral toilets has sparked controversy in the US, where North Carolina has enacted a law mandating that people use only bathrooms which correspond to the sex on their birth certificate in government buildings, including schools.
The move prompted celebrities and corporations to boycott the state, while similar moves in other states have been so far stymied.
Gender-neutral toilets are not common in Australian schools, but are being introduced in universities. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday voiced support for a primary school expansion of the Safe Schools program, while deflecting questions on whether five was too young for children to understand gender transitioning.
“What I support is the right of children to go to school free of bullying,” he said. “I support schools using their own professional judgment to utilise the materials that may be available to them to actually deal with that issue in the schools.”
His Education Minister, Susan Close, reiterated that Safe Schools material was meant for high school students, “with primary schools only receiving support from the service provider for individual matters’’.
“While I support teaching children of all ages that difference doesn’t justify bullying in any circumstance, having not funded or commissioned this research, the Department for Education in South Australia is under no obligation to enact any of the recommendations from the report,” she said. A review of the Safe Schools program — initiated by the Turnbull government — found some of its content and resources were not appropriate for young students, prompting the government to revise its material and direct it towards only secondary schools.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham yesterday said he had no quarrel with the Flinders study since parental permission had been obtained from the students involved.
A university spokeswoman declined to provide a copy of the consent form but said Flinders was “satisfied that parents were comprehensively informed about the detail of the research’’.
“The form clearly states that an aim of the project is to explore how primary school students understand picture books that include trans or gender diverse characters,’’ she said. “Information was provided about support for children should any be discomforted.’’