UPDATED 12:49: Disability council deplores discriminatory comments
The university students’ council (KSU) has introduced gender-neutral bathrooms on campus in a bid to “create a safe space” for transgender students, but the move has been met with strong opposition from a number of students.
A bathroom in the university library and another in Student House that had previously been reserved for persons with a disability were officially designated gender neutral last week, following a commitment by KSU last year in the wake of the government’s pioneering Gender Identity Act.
The council has also reached an agreement with the university administration for all new buildings to feature similar arrangements in future, which was supported by all student organisations.
Segregated bathrooms have often been a source of discomfort and harassment for transgender people, particularly those who are still transitioning, as well as non-binary individuals, who do not identify as either male or female.
Most of the criticism is a result of indifference
KSU’s announcement, however, has been met with a mixed reaction from students. While many praised the initiative, others said they were uncomfortable with it, citing fears of harassment and hygiene. Several others said they disagreed in principle with people using bathrooms that were not aligned with their biological sex.
KSU President Becky Micallef told the Times of Malta most of the criticism was unfounded. She stressed that while there had been no reported instances of transphobic harassment on campus so far, the move was a clear statement in favour of greater acceptance.
“This isn’t something that needs extensive discussion: it’s just one toilet; it makes absolutely no difference to anyone who would rather not use it,” Ms Micallef said. “If people feel uncomfortable with it, they can use the segregated toilets everywhere else on campus. The arguments against it just feel like an excuse.”
Mark Josef Rapa, president of the university LGBT society We Are, which supported the initiative, said gender-neutral bathrooms were a way of putting into practice the spirit of the gender identity law.
“It doesn’t make sense to have laws in place and not put them into practice,” he said.
“Most of the criticism is a result of indifference or a feeling that some people are being given privileged treatment. In reality, these people are simply being given what is rightfully theirs: the right to privacy and to pursue their education in a safe space.”
Gender-neutral bathrooms are currently also at the centre of controversy in the US, after the State of North Carolina passed a law, widely perceived as anti-transgender, requiring people to use the bathroom which aligns with their biological sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity.
In a statement. the National Commission for Persons with a Disability deplored negative comments about disabled and transgender persons sharing bathrooms at the University.
"Negative comments reflect discrimination against trans-gender persons, which we oppose," the KNPD said. The Commission opposed the segregation of bathrooms on grounds of both gender and disability, it added.