Last year, a man of transgender experience filed a petition before the Madras High Court seeking gender-neutral toilets in all public spaces in Tamil Nadu as per the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019.
A trans woman advocate has written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Justice Sanjay Vijaykumar Gangapurwala stating that the lack of gender-neutral toilets in the court premises has severely affected her physical and mental health.
In the letter, Kanmani R. has said: “The lack of gender-neutral toilets in the premises of the high court has led me several times to hold my bowels, avoid eating food and drinking water… I have also been dehydrated many times, owing to this, and suffered from urinary tract infections.”
She stated that the lack of such washrooms creates a barrier to accessing basic hygiene facilities for transgender persons including for those who may not be open about their gender identity.
Sharing her experience of harassment due to the lack of gender-neutral toilets, she said: “As a transgender woman, I have been thrown out of both ‘male’ and ‘female’ washrooms, faced harassment and violence while pursuing my L.L.B. course in the University of Delhi.”
Kanmani R. stated that the discrimination faced due to the lack of toilets for transgender persons continued in several other places in Delhi.
“I can say the experience has been similar in many toilets in other public places in Chennai as well,” she averred.
Speaking to The Leaflet, Kanmani R. pointed out that as a response to her letter, she may be asked to access washroom facilities designed for persons with disabilities.
On this, she said: “I do not want to access the washroom meant for persons with disabilities because I am not a person with disabilities. Even if I am forced to access, often those washrooms are locked.”
She added that a gender non-conforming washroom goes a long way not just in avoiding the scope of public harassment but also creating visibility of the other genders and sexual minorities accessing public spaces.
Adding to that, Kanmani pointed out that not a lot of gender non-conforming people are out of the closet. In such cases, a gender-neutral toilet is essentially a ‘safe space’ for them.
“It is about creating safer spaces for everyone including trans-persons who may not be open about their gender identity,” she said.
Rule 12(4)(a) of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, read with Section 8(1) of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, obligates the government to take steps to secure “full and effective participation of transgender persons and their inclusion in the society.”
Rule 12 talks about equal opportunities in employment, whereas Rule 12(4(a) says that the equal opportunity policy for all establishments must contain details of “infrastructural facilities including unisex toilets”.
A trans-rights activist, Fred Rogers, filed a petition before the Madras High Court seeking single occupancy gender-neutral or all-gender toilets in all establishments in Tamil Nadu in 2022.
Rogers identifies as a man of transgender experience and has been engaged as a gender and sexual minorities affirmative counsellor for the past two years.
In his petition, Rogers pointed out that the transgender population in Tamil Nadu as per the 2011 census is 22,364. Despite that, there are no proper sanitation facilities, which is the most basic requirement for a life with dignity, for the community.
The case came before a Bench of acting Chief Justice T. Raja and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy on February 1, 2023.
The petitioner informed The Leaflet that the court remarked on the lack of gender-neutral toilets on the premises of the Madras High Court.
The Bench directed the Tamil Nadu government to file a reply within one week.
Rogers added that since then, neither has the government replied nor has the case come up for hearing.
Speaking to The Leaflet, Rogers said that the need for gender-neutral washrooms not only promotes inclusiveness but also breaks the social stigma attached to their gender identity.
He said: “Gendered washrooms are spaces of violence for trans communities.”
This year in April, the Supreme Court of India inauguratednine universal restrooms in different locations in the building for the inclusion of gender and sexual minorities.