NEVER could we have guessed the battle for gender equality would see us romanticising public toilets.

Recently gender neutral toilets have been headline-grabbing and outrage-inducing. Tramway, an arts and culture venue in Glasgow, converted two banks of lavatories from male and female to unisex.

Following criticism, Glasgow Life, the organisation responsible for the facility, moved to reassure patrons that sex-segregated loos were still on offer - you just had to look upstairs for them.

East Renfrewshire Council was next. During the summer holidays, two primary schools in Giffnock and Clarkston saw their facilities turned sex-neutral. Parents expressed concerns; a local councillor said he had been contacted by "worried, angry and upset" constituents.

The Home Office has recently converted staff toilets to sex neutral at a cost to the tax payer of £36,000. These were much publicised when a photo was leaked of a sign imploring male civil servants to please shut the cubicle door when relieving themselves. "Women are finding use of the toilets quite distressing," ran the polite notice.

ITV's This Morning then held a debate about whether the British public would be happy using gender neutral facilities or not.

There's something inherently loaded about "gender-neutral toilets" - it sets people off in comments sections, it prompts fraught social media debates.

East Renfrewshire Council went wrong by not consulting parents first. In Glasgow new build primaries are designed with unisex toilets and the council gave parents a heads-up.

The lavatories have individual, fully enclosed cubicles with shared sinks. Each bank of loos has one cubicle with an enclosed sink, ostensibly for girls who need additional privacy. The council says bullying and graffiti are down and cleanliness is on the up. Though, of course they would - it would be far too costly to admit an error. It would be interesting to know if girls using the cubicle-with-sink face any mockery.

Puberty is a trying time and parents rightly want to ensure their child has the privacy and safety they need. Changes have been made for those reasons: to ensure the privacy and safety of all children, and also the inclusion of all children.

And there's the rub: by "inclusion", education departments mean "for trans children". So criticism of unisex toilets is viewed as being intolerant, at best, and transphobic, at worst.

There's currently a wide ranging, oftentimes bitter, oftentimes extremely divisive debate ongoing about sex and gender, trans rights and women's rights and how these intersect or contradict. I imagine there are many people complete unaware of this element of public discourse, and others who are vaguely aware but don't engage, partly because they believe it doesn't affect them.

For many, the only time the impact of changes to sex or gender-segregated rights and spaces comes into their consciousness is in the discussion about toilets - a universal issue.

And the debate tends towards either "political correctness gone mad" for those in the sex-segregated loos corner, and "resistance is bigotry" for those on the opposing side.

Repeatedly this week I've heard: "But you have a gender neutral toilet in your house." Indeed. But we choose who gets to use that toilet.

Others suggest using the accessible toilet if you're worried but people with disabilities have a right not to have to queue while able bodied people use their spaces.

In defence of sex-segregated spaces, comment pieces have appeared waxing lyrical about public toilets as sanctuaries and spaces for easing heartbreak or sharing gossip. This romanticising rather misses the point.

In writing about Tramway's new unisex loos this week I listened to women who have been raped and don't feel safe in an enclosed space with men. From women who miscarried in public toilets and took comfort from being in a female space with women who supported them.

One woman mentioned that she uses a Mooncup and wouldn't be comfortable washing it out in a sink in front of men.

A Muslim woman said she's fine with sharing but she has friends with concerns about being in a toilet alone with men.

These women all use gender neutral toilets at home. Claiming they should then, by extension, by comfortable doing so publicly, is facile in the extreme.

Tramway has made the same error London's Barbican made in 2016, and that is to, firstly, make changes that fail to consider the specific views of women but also to think that a simple signage change would fix a complex issue.

Toilets are now labelled either "cubicles" or "cubicles and urinals". How many women will opt to use the space that includes urinals? Not many. What these signs do, then, is to open up women's spaces to men.

Pubs during the Edinburgh festival have been doing similar sign changes and women, like the female Home Office staff, report men failing to shut cubicle doors behind them, or being drunk and lairy in a space that was formerly a refuge for women looking to avoid men being drunk and lairy.

The trans community is one of our most vulnerable, subject to abuse, discrimination and social isolation. Their rights and needs must be respected and protected. We must, as a society, be inclusive to all. So it's right that organisations consider this issue as we seek ways to reduce the stigma trans people face.

However, there are genuine questions of practicality and implementing change requires conversations we must be free to have without accusations of intolerance or bigotry.

The answer could be new - and better - infrastructure that allows for individual unisex toilets such as those being introduced in schools, where institutions can afford it.

Or could it be to leave things as they are. The answer is not to make changes without consultation. A proper public debate about public conveniences is long overdue.