What should have been a ground-breaking Queensland education celebration, the opening next year of Brisbane’s new $80 million vertical high school, has become mired in controversy after revelations that students will have to share unisex toilets.
The plan has been met with anger and scepticism from a growing number of parents, and child development experts.
The education department has side-stepped the growing criticism of the toilet facilities planned for the Fortitude Valley campus, saying they are inline with modern state-of-the-art vertical high schools interstate.
It said the toilet facilities met “contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”.
The new school will take year 7 students next year with year 8s enrolling in 2021, year 9s (2022), year 10s (2023), year 11s (2024) and year 12s (2025) onwards. The capacity of the school when completed, will be 1,500.
The school will be fitted with self-contained gender-neutral cubicles and shared basin areas late next year but year 7 students (numbering up to 250) starting next month will have access to 12 lockable, self-contained gender-neutral bathrooms.
The only exception is the change room, which will have two male and female toilets.Those toilets won’t open until later in 2020.
The education department said: “Each unisex toilet cubicle (when completed there will be more than 50 lockable “floor to ceiling” cubicles) is in line with contemporary best practice and underpinned by safety considerations.”
The installation of gender-neutral toilets has sparked a massive divide, with some people agreeing it was an “unsafe” move and others comparing them to disabled toilets, which are also shared.
Brisbane education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell told Queensland’s The Sunday Mail that the decision was fraught with potential dangers for students, echoing objections from many mothers on-line.
“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element,” Ms Mitchell said.
“It feels like some basic rights are being taken away from these kids – that’s an intense thing to say, but it’s true.
“Being a teenager is a really big time of change, for boys and for girls, and kids have a right to feel safe.”
The mother of a recently graduated teenage girl who is opposed to the unisex toilets told SheSociety there were so many physical and emotional changes throughout this time in young people’s lives, particularly among girls.
“Privacy and discretion is all you want as a teenager and I can see this being compromised,” said the mum who attended high school in SA between 1982 and 1986.
“Do we really need to see kids ‘holding on’ until they get home!”
Fortitude Valley State Secondary College Source: Facebook
One woman said on line there was “no way” she would send her kids to a school with unisex toilets.
“Especially being the mother of girls, not that it’s just girls sexually abused, then there is bullying and underage sex. Our schools really aren’t safe environments anymore,” the woman said.
Queensland Teachers’ Union President who told The Sunday Mail he was aware of the new design was quoted as saying: “Every toilet in our home is unisex. So it’s not that unusual”,
This response sparked derision from some parents who pointed out that such toilets were shared primarily by family members, brought up to value privacy in the home and treat one another with dignity.
One woman on facebook said: “I can think back to when I was a teen and all my insecurities and embarrassment around boys, I would have been horrified to take a bowel movement while anyone of the opposite gender was in the room; not to mention that time of the month.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Judith Locke told The Sunday Mail sharing facilities could lead to potential problems, such as girls feeling uncomfortable using the toilets while menstruating.
“If they are trying to change things to suit what we are experiencing in a modern society, we should allow opportunities to test them,” Dr Locke said, saying it was important the school takes on student feedback once it is in operation.
The seven-storey Fortitude Valley State Secondary College is the first inner-city state school to be built in Brisbane in over half a century.
The following are reactions from some SheSociety readers:
- I guess it’s a sign of the times when we look at it. I don’t see the fuss really, a toilet has gone from being a drop hole in the dirt which you had to dig yourself to an outhouse at the back of a schoolyard that everyone shared to now having our own gendered toilets which are being shared anyway between those that identify as transgender, etc. We look at it as somewhat of a privilege to have our own gender-based bathrooms. Perhaps we need to concentrate more on what the real concerns are here? Is it the use of the toilets or is it the possible incidences that could happen within the unisex toilets? Sexual assault? Kanoodling? Maybe it will make the bathrooms a safer place to be and perhaps it will also make all genders more understanding of each other during that awkward pubescent time in our lives.(Attended high school from 1998-2002).
- I believe all schools should certainly have toilets throughout the school that are unisex, but also believe that there should still be separated female and male options as well. Bathrooms are not just used as bathrooms, they are also change rooms, beauty rooms, or a “time out” space if you are having a rough day. At an age where everything is amplified, I was certainly more comfortable having the option to a female only bathroom at a unisex school. I think schools can make more of an impact by allowing students who are born one way but identify as another to use the facilities that they align with. (Attended high school from 2007-2012).
- I think that schools should have the option of having toilets that are unisex based on the students needs/preferences, however I still think their should be the option of seperated female and male toilets for students to choose. I know that when I was in high school (if I went to a co-ed school) I would not feel comfortable sharing toilets with boys and I also think it could potentially lead to unsafe situations between boys and girls if toilets were combined together. I think it is a great option for students who don’t align with the gender they were assigned to, however other students should be taken into consideration too who may not want to share a bathroom with the opposite sex. (Attended high school from 2009-2013).
- More then happy for unisex toilets to be made available, but they shouldn’t completely replace separate male and female toilets. I think separate gendered toilets are still very necessary for safety and privacy reasons. (Attended high school from 2005-2009).
- Sure, unisex is fine if it is a singular bathroom, but young people want privacy especially during puberty. Taking out Female/Male only toilets would take that option and safety away from them. (Attended high school from 2009-2013).
LET US KNOW YOUR VIEW ON UNISEX TOILETS IN HIGH SCHOOLS?
Rebecca Pini is the founder and Managing Director of made4media, a fully integrated creative, marketing and communications agency specialising in brand development and management, social media, traditional & digital communications, advertising, events, creative design & video production. With 30 years in television, marketing and communications, Rebecca has had extensive experience in many facets of the changing marketing and communications industry.
Married with two teenagers, Rebecca is also the owner of SheSociety. Supporting women has always been a passion and she is very proud of this creative platform which women can share their thoughts, insights and opinions.