Unisex toilets for primary schools to be discussed by teachers
GENDER neutral toilets could replace traditional male and female loos in schools to accommodate transgender children, a major gathering of teachers will hear on Friday.
The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) annual conference in Newcastle will be told that lining up pupils as boys and girls in primary schools could soon be a thing of the past.
About one per cent of children in schools in Britain and Northern Ireland are transgender.
Teachers said they were becoming increasingly concerned after some schools were asked during inspections what provision they made for transgender children.
Elsewhere, primary schools have already introduced unisex toilets to prevent transphobia.
Some parents say their children do not want to use facilities split with the opposite sex, however, as it makes them feel uncomfortable.
UTU members plan to discuss numerous equality issues today.
"Many schools in America and mainland Europe already have gender neutral toilets and recent publicity around the Eddie Redmayne film The Danish Girl has brought the issue of transgender into the public domain," said Jacquie Reid, UTU deputy general secretary.
"However, our members are concerned about where their schools stand following inspections where they were asked why they lined up pupils according to gender, for instance, and why bathroom facilities were specifically male and female.
"When it comes to sexuality issues, transgender is arguably the most controversial because it is an area which many people understand the least due to a lack of education."
Ms Reid suggested that the inspectorate should instead outline its expectations and provide training and support for teachers.
"Teachers are ordinary people so why should they know any more about this issue than anyone else?" she added.
"However, if the inspectorate is looking at the issue with regard to a school's physical environment, then we would also have to consider child protection issues, for instance, in considering gender neutral showers, for example."
Meanwhile, the conference will also hear that many LGBT teachers still fear for their careers if colleagues find out about their sexuality.
Ms Reid said "at the very least Northern Ireland must have hundreds of LGBT teachers".
"The insidiousness of the issue adds to its sensitivity and we need a cultural and societal change if we are to address it fully. For rather than having full-blown discrimination against LGBT teachers, they are encountering more subtle - intentional or not - but nonetheless totally unacceptable in this day and age," she said.
"LGBT teachers are being marginalised in their school communities too because perhaps they don't feel free to talk about their partners with colleagues because they are of the same sex."