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Gender-Neutral Bathrooms: A Small Step in the Right Direction

By , 17, Contributor Originally Published: March 25, 2022 Revised: March 25, 2022

My high school may have posters in the classrooms claiming that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but the reality can feel much different. Time and time again, the administration has not assisted those who came forward about harassment based on their gender identity, often excusing the aggressors as “confused” or “emotional.”

However, in recent years, the school installed a gender-neutral bathroom. This was after years of transgender and gender nonconforming students fighting to get a safe space to use the restroom. Although this may seem like progress to the cisgender, heterosexual people in my town who aren’t really affected by the change, that’s not the case for those like me who actually need to use that bathroom.

Unnecessarily Gendered

As a gender nonconforming student, I often encounter unnecessarily gendered items—whether it be changing rooms, clothes, skincare, merchandise or toys—but bathrooms are the most frustrating. For instance, during each class change at my school, the halls fill with hundreds of students. Many visit the bathroom to apply makeup, talk to friends or simply use the facilities, yet this same privilege is barely afforded to those wanting to use my high school’s one gender-neutral bathroom.

Beyond the obvious purpose of a bathroom, it also serves as a place for students to talk or get some privacy if needed. Lacking more spaces where I can perform basic human necessities in peace and comfort can cause even more alienation from my cisgender peers.

More Than a Bathroom

Unfortunately, it can feel like the administration has not 1.) shown enough regard for transgender and gender nonconforming students who don’t feel safe in gendered bathrooms and 2.) listened to staff who lobby for these students. This can lead to students with hateful biases mistreating others without fear of consequences.

According to GLSEN’s—an organization dedicated to improving schools for LGBTQ students—2019 National School Climate Survey, over 90 percent of LGBTQ students “heard negative remarks about gender expression” at school and just under 90 percent “heard negative remarks specifically about transgender people” at school. Further, just nine percent of LGBTQ students “reported that school staff intervened most of the time or always when overhearing negative remarks about gender expression.”

Expanding the number of gender-neutral bathrooms would not only give trans and gender nonconforming students a safe space to use the restroom, it would also show that the school is committed to diversity and acceptance.

Inclusivity in the Classroom

There’s much more schools can and should do beyond creating gender-neutral bathrooms. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation provides a checklist for a welcoming school environment, including using inclusive language, stopping homophobic or transphobic words and actions, incorporating diverse books and images and setting a positive, inclusive tone in the classroom.

Schools must change systematically, beyond installing one gender-neutral bathroom as a performative action. A racial literacy course recently introduced in my school teaches about how issues of race intersect with students’ lives, whether they are students of color or allies. How about a course focused on LGBTQ history, current events and literacy, given that sexual orientation and gender identity also intersect with every aspect of students’ lives?

In 2019, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to mandate LGBTQ-inclusive (as well as inclusivity when it comes to people with disabilities) lessons across subject areas. More states have followed. Whether or not schools are following this is in question. While reform in the way of gender-neutral bathrooms is a great place to start, schools must do more to end transphobic behavior and increase inclusivity.

* Parker Green is a pseudonym for a 17-year-old who lives in New Jersey.

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