There were shock waves on the first day of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in October as delegates arrived and found that some of the toilets had been redesignated as “TOILETS FOR EVERY BODY”. Black and white signs had been placed over the usual male and female symbols.
The main conveniences at the conference centre comprise three sets of lavatories with entrances from both the exhibition hall and the conference hall and the long foyer running alongside these two main event locations. They are well designed as, once inside, large symbols direct women to one side and men to the other. The men have a row of self-flushing urinals and a few cubicles, the women have about twice as many cubicles. There is also one single cubicle for either user group. Larger cubicles for disabled people are available in the women’s – I’m not sure if the men’s have the same, I expect so.
So why were they redesignated? It was done at the behest of the Labour Party conference organisers. I am reliably informed that the request was for 60% of the loos to be made unisex. YES! SIXTY PERCENT!
The cubicles on the men’s side did not contain sanitary bins and the black curtain placed in front of the urinals did not quite cover them fully, thus allowing some access, and nearly everyone going in was thoroughly dismayed – not to say pissed off!
Bearing in mind that men tend to start unzipping at the earliest opportunity and may reveal themselves before they reach their destination, there is immediately a legal problem in that they could be accused of flashing. For the women, a key issue is that the cubicles do not reach floor to ceiling with the consequent potential breach of privacy by those so minded.
An immediate flood of complaints to the venue management and to conference services saw most of the aberrant signs swiftly removed but they unaccountably reappeared during Keir Starmer’s speech on Monday. This was curious timing, perhaps ensuring maximum inconvenience as attendees had to queue for an hour to get in for the hour long speech, a bladder endurance test for some. Who knows why? And then were taken down again.
For my own part, I’m long past caring – I’ve seen enough penises not to be shocked and anyone wanting sight of my septuagenarian bum is bonkers – BUT the majority of women and men do want the privacy afforded by single sex provision. The rush for inclusivity should not be at the expense of privacy and dignity – for everybody, whether in Conference toilets, hospital wards or any other context where women especially are vulnerable.
Dr Viv Pointon
For further information on the provision of toilets in public spaces, see https://sex-mattersw.org/posts/webinars/toilets-matter-webinar/
Below are some of the views of inconvenienced conference goers.
“I’m fuming! I just left the toilet cubicle and there were two men outside it in suits, with some very uncomfortable women. The women in [the] queue are really uncomfortable.”
“This is so random and wrong. To change to mixed sex in the middle of the conference is just stupid and very poor organisation.”
“All of us were looking at each other while I washed my hands, the men could see we are uncomfortable. They have changed from yesterday, it’s clear these women don’t realise the sign has changed. There’s no queue for men’s side, why are they here?”
“We must complain to the CAC chair and members. And [the] chair of [the] NEC.”
“It’s quite a muddled situation. The buildings which comprise the Conference Centre have plenty of men’s, women’s and mixed-sex toilets and these are clearly signposted. In at least two places of the main corridor from which the Main Conference Hall is accessed, the men’s, women’s and a mixed-sex cubicle are reached via a single door off the corridor, with the mixed-sex cubicle being immediately accessible, the men’s being behind a further wall in one direction and the women’s behind a further wall in the other direction. In one of these suites the signs seemed slightly odd, but the segregation of men’s and women’s toilets was clear enough, on looking. However, the other suite had been labelled Toilets for Every Body, and it was in this suite that men seemed to assume that they were free to use the women’s toilets, as well as their own.”
“This afternoon I couldn’t find a women’s toilet (I think was downstairs at end of building without exhibition hall). They were labelled “toilets for everyone” (sic). A chef going past said “that one’s the ladies”. There was a woman servicing them, I said I was shocked that [the] women’s toilet was now open to men. She agreed with me, said it had only happened for this event.”
“On the other hand, I wanted to go to the loos in the ACC this evening. This is what I encountered… The one on the left was closed. The one in the middle was closed. The one on the right was open, the one with urinals and cubicles. When I entered two women were washing their hands, another was emerging from a cubicle. In the meantime a man came in, went straight to the urinal and started doing his thing.”
“The problem was the redesignation so what was clear to me was that women like me who had been using a particular toilet just naturally went to that one and were suddenly confronted with men. Going and asking for or looking around for single sex toilets is a risky option for our dignity at a point where so many women had been queuing up for a seat for the speech for at least an hour and then sat through the hour. At that point you are not going to run around seeking alternatives. I noticed the guy in the queue and checked the sign to realise what had happened but when I came out there was a woman who had gone in earlier so when she came out and saw by then two men outside her door her physical shock was obvious – women coming in and recoiling and looking at each other – we all felt our space had been invaded. I spoke to the leader of my council afterwards – she immediately said she realised that too … and was uncomfortable.”
“It’s much better to have some unisex toilets than males in the Ladies. As long as there are enough women’s toilets.”
“Agreed. Shouldn’t “unisex” refer to single cubicles, though? Not areas where women have to walk past urinals to reach cubicles?”
“Maybe there could have been one set of unisex toilets in the building, and all the rest segregated by sex? Some public buildings have done that, e.g. British Library. Trouble is, it often means reducing toilet facilities for the rest of us.”
“Guest Relations in the ACC told two of us who went to make our views known yesterday that it was the client, i.e. the Labour Party, who had asked for the confusing redesignation of some of the toilets. We need to find out who, exactly, in the LP is responsible for this irresponsible and disrespectful decision. I suggest we all e-mail CAC.… on firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is what I’ve said:
I, and a number of other women delegates to whom I have spoken, have had the very disconcerting experience of finding a man or men using what we thought were women’s toilets in the Conference buildings this year. My own reaction was to turn round and go straight out again.
Two of us went to make our feelings known at the Guest Relations desk yesterday. We were told that it was the Labour Party who had asked for some toilets to be redesignated as “Toilets for Everybody”.
If there are no single-sex toilets inside an area labelled “Toilets for Everybody” then the signage is highly misleading. This does not appear to have occurred to whoever authorised this redesignation.
Please can you tell me to whom in the Labour Party I need to direct my concerns?
With thanks for all that you do…”