Property Australia

How can property make restrooms and amenities more inclusive?

Adrien Moffatt Adrien Moffatt December 1, 2020

Everyone deserves to use the bathroom with dignity and without the risk of harassment, humiliation or harm – which is why The GPT Group and InterBuild are seeking feedback on inclusive amenities in community spaces.

Restrooms in workplaces and public places, like shopping centres, should provide safe and inclusive access for everyone. When choice isn’t available, members of our communities can feel isolated and excluded, limiting visitation.

At The GPT Group’s Casuarina Square in Darwin, direct engagement with the community made this clear. As part of centre upgrades in 2019, local community groups stressed the importance of all-gender restroom options for members of the community that didn’t feel comfortable using a male or female toilet. The addition of an all-gender option received positive feedback.

The added flexibility and inclusion for our customers at Casuarina Square is an important step in our objective to be a positive contributor and enable our employees, customers and visitors to bring their whole self to GPT assets, whether that’s one of our offices or shopping centres.”

Chris Barnett, Head of Retail, The GPT Group 

In 2020, all gender options were added to Melbourne Central, one of Australia’s busiest shopping centres, with further plans for GPT’s portfolio in future.

To harness the work of leader’s like GPT, InterBuild – the LGBT+ network for the property and construction sector, is outlining the barriers and building the case for all-gender restrooms and amenities. InterBuild’s network includes many Property Council members, such as Multiplex, Schiavello and Lendlease, The GPT Group, Stockland, Charter Hall, MinterEllison and Jacobs.

These leaders are working together to create an industry-wide approach to overcome barriers, provide practical guidance and meet growing community expectations.

Ben Thomas, national manager for environment at The GPT Group and chair of InterBuild’s inclusive amenities work, says all-gender toilets cater to the needs of many different groups in the community: parents with young children, non-binary or trans individuals, or those with a carer or other circumstance requiring a bit more time or privacy, for example.

“We know that over three quarters of people surveyed in the Australia Workplace Equality Index would be comfortable for all-gender restrooms to be an option in their workplace,” Thomas says.

Armed with those statistics, InterBuild is diving deeper to “better understand community and industry preferences and options for industry guidance on making this possible”.

The InterBuild survey examines the options for all-gender restroom like layouts, signage and other experiential considerations. The survey will provide useful suggestions for building owners, managers and developers to consider when building or refurbishing.

One of the bigger barriers is the Building Code of Australia’s prescription of gendered restrooms. InterBuild is exploring how the BCA can better align with other legislation, like the Commonwealth Government’s Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy, gender identity or intersex status.

“The Building Code of Australia specifies the number of toilets for each building type by male and female. While there are performance-based methods for working out alternatives to the BCA requirements, there’s not an industry best practice approach we can refer to with certainty when engaging with certifiers,” Thomas explains.

One short-term option is to consider re-signing accessible toilets as all-gender, but there are several drawbacks of this approach, most notably that it prevents or delays people with disabilities from accessing the facilities designed for their use.

Looking long-term, all-gender toilets can provide safe spaces for the trans and intersex community who frequently report being chased out of restrooms or accosted for not presenting as a specific gender.

Results from a 2015 survey of transgender people in the United Stated found that 59 per cent of trans people avoided public restrooms due to fear of confrontation and 31 per cent avoided eating or drinking so that they would not need to use a public restroom.

Beyond the trans and intersex community, there are many more visitors in shopping centres, workplaces and community buildings that would prefer a more private, inclusive option.

“We know that many of our peers are keen to move on this. InterBuild is interested in finding more best practice examples to promote and we anticipate that our work will support others as they navigate barriers and build more inclusive assets,” Thomas says.

“InterBuild needs the help of the property and construction sector to make built environments more inclusive – so please take the survey,” Thomas concludes.

Take the InterBuild Inclusive Amenities Survey: Preferences, Challenges and Options.