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This Friday a group of British Youth Council volunteers joined other young people at an Equality 4U event in Stafford. The event’s purpose was to explore four key human rights campaigns. For more information about the event itself please see its website, or see the article going up on the British Youth Council’s website about the event. Of course, a single day isn’t nearly enough time to discuss any of these topics. It was an eye-opener. A starting point for conversations, and ideas.

We split up into four distinct work-shops, one for disability rights, one for BME[1] rights, one for women’s rights, and one for LGBT[2] rights. It’s a reasonably good way of dividing the conversations for a one day course. But in real life, people aren’t that simple. Many, maybe even most, people could identify as more than one of those things. How about a Black, gay man, who faces racism from some elements of the LGBT community, homophobia from some members of the Black community, and both from some other people? Or a women with disabilities, at greater risk of domestic violence than a woman without disabilities[3], but not able to access many rape crisis centres and women’s spaces?

There are already groups who are working on issues of equality that affect people with different identities. One of these is PISSAR, or People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms, which was started by students at the Universityof California, to improve bathroom accessibility. The group is largely made up of people who don’t conform to gender norms, people with disabilities, and people who care for small children. They also recognise how important access to toilets is for street homeless people, but don’t have any plans to help solve that yet. A copy of the PISSAR checklist is up online here. Briefly, it includes whether the toilet is in an isolated space, whether it is fully accessible (grab rails, height of soap and pad/tampon dispensers, width of doors, etc), whether there are gender-neutral toilets, and whether there is a changing table. By refusing to ignore issues that are awkward or embarrassing, or to see these issues as trivial, they are tackling problems that are too often sidelined or overlooked.

For a lot of people, it’s easy to assume that any bathroom we use will fit our needs. But for some of the members of this group, that’s not the case.

From my experience, issues of inequality and oppression can often work like this, affecting things most of us are never even aware of. Why would you notice the width of stalls, or height of soap dispensers, if you don’t use a wheelchair, and haven’t helped a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair to cope with public toilets? If no one you know is gender non-conforming, and is hassled in single gender spaces because their gender is confusing or hard to read, gender specific toilets would never seem problematic to you. And if you’ve never been a single dad, would it occur to you to worry if there are only changing tables in women’s toilets? Maybe this all seems a bit over-the-top too you, or petty, or just not as serious as real politics. But all of these issues are stupidly important to people’s ability to get on with their normal lives.

If we can find all of these issues in something as mundane as toilets, how many other invisible issues must there be? I want to shine a light on those problems. I want to talk about them. And, maybe more importantly, I want to listen, and learn to notice the world around me more. Because if we don’t even see the inequality in the world we live in, and the things we do every day, how can we begin to tackle these issues?


[1] BME stands for Black and Minority Ethnic. It was the term used by the event. I’ve been told that some people find the wording problematic, preferring to use Black as an umbrella term, or marginalised peoples, or People of Colour. But I’m not confident enough of that to re-phrase it, especially as I wouldn’t be sure what to change it to.

[2] LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. It has been adapted and extended into a variety of acronyms, including LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) and the more memorable and pronounceable QUILTBAG (Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay)

[3] According to Scapegoat by Katharine Quarmby

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