Gender-neutral bathrooms divide community, push administrators to deal with national issue

(Graphic by Nicole Wolkov)
The Transgender Pride flag has become a popular symbol for supporters of gender-neutral bathrooms.

All public schools in the United States must allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity, not necessarily their born sex, as directed by a joint letter written by the Departments of Education and Justice sent to all government-funded schools by the Obama administration as of May 12.

This comes as no surprise following the controversial House Bill 2 in North Carolina, which requires all students to use the bathroom of the gender in which they were born.

Although the letter is not a law or any kind of legal statement, it threatens to cut federal funding to those schools who do not abide by the guidelines.

So where does Sacramento Country Day fall when it comes to this issue?

First of all, the letter was not received by nor does any action have to take place in our school because it is privately funded and not affiliated with the government.

Second, the letter does not affect any public schools in California because governor Jerry Brown signed the Schools Success and Opportunity Act (which went into effect on Jan.  1, 2014), allowing transgender students to participate in the sport and use the facilities matching their gender identity.

Although Country Day is not legally obligated to take any actions, more than half of 127 high-school students said they believe gender-neutral bathrooms should be provided in the school community, according to a May 10 Octagon poll.

In a telephone survey of 20 California independent schools similar to SCDS, 17 said they had gender-neutral bathroom options.

These gender-neutral facilities were available for transgender, gender-fluid and cisgender students and faculty.

There are two options for gender-neutral facilities: absolutely gender-neutral bathrooms in which all genders go into the same bathroom with multiple stalls, or single-stalled individual restrooms much like a family restroom.

Kevin Huang
Administrative assistant Erica Wilson walks out of the gender-neutral faculty restroom in the front office.

The latter of these solutions seems like the most practical solution because there are already many single-stalled restrooms on campus, although now all of them are currently for faculty use only, according to Brooke Wells, head of high school. This is because there are two bathrooms in the high-school area and two in the middle/lower school area.

“For athletics, we (Wells and athletic director Matt Vargo) are considering to use the bathroom in the PE office for students who wish to use it as a restroom, shower or locker room,” Wells said.

Wells also said the PE bathroom would be a good consideration for all student accommodations, not just athletes; however, it needs to be more well-known and advertised as an option for students, not just for faculty, as it is now.

Michelle Myers, physical education curriculum coordinator, said she was not told this was the decided solution for athletics.

“In order for students to use that bathroom, they have to go through our office and things,” Myers said.

“This PE office is a faculty area, and it would be unfair and inappropriate for both the students and teachers if this bathroom was the designated solution.

“Over five years ago, I worked to bring this to the attention of the administration and athletic department; however, I have not been included in any further discussions. I do think maintenance, athletics, physical education and the administration all need to be involved in the conversation,” Myers said.

Junior Austin Talamantes, president of MOGAI (Marginalized Orientations, Gender Alignments and Intersex) Club, said it’s important that the school makes it known there are options for all students, instead of waiting for a request from an out-of-the-closet transgender or gender-fluid student.

“By allowing the use of the pre-existing, single-stalled restrooms on the campus, (the school) would be showing support and creating a safe space for all in a not difficult, inexpensive way,” Talamantes said.

Furthermore, a single-stalled restroom accessible to everyone on campus is an advantage for families with small children and babies.

“It is crazy that we don’t have a place for families to privately go in together and change diapers,” junior Avi Bhullar said.

“My mom couldn’t attend a lot of my games and performances when my little brother was still in diapers because there was no place for her to properly change him.”

Junior Isabelle Leavy agreed.

“It will make the campus safer for students wishing to come out or looking into coming to the school,” Leavy said.

“Plus, if there are never any gender issues that arise, it seems reasonable to simply have a family restroom since this is a school.”

Most students who disagree with or are hesitant regarding transgender rights and lifestyle said they have no problem with another bathroom being added or labeled as gender neutral.

Other students in the high school believe multi-stalled bathrooms for all genders and students are the best option.

The most common opposition to the second solution is the privacy and protection of women.

“We cannot force people to accept gender-neutral and trans people, and we are doing so by compromising their privacy if we were to have only gender-neutral restrooms,” a junior said.

Although senior Amelia Fineberg agrees that having only gender-neutral bathrooms is the best solution, she acknowledges this argument.

“I just think the most basic solution is having a bathroom everyone can use,” Fineberg said.

College counselor Jane Bauman remembers being at UC Santa Cruz in 1973 and having a coed bathroom in her coed dorm.

“The first floor was a boys’ bathroom, the second the girls’, and the third was coed,” Bauman said.

“If somebody really had a difficulty with it, they could go to another floor, but when you think about it, it was almost like using a bathroom in a family home and people were fine with it.”

The first regulation requiring separate facilities for men and women in the United States came in 1887, when women were more commonly joining the workforce, an article from Time Magazine Online stated.

Terry Kogan, a law professor who has done extensive research on segregated bathrooms, said in that article, “One might think that it makes perfect sense, that bathrooms are separated by sex because there are basic biological differences. That’s completely wrong.”

According to Kogan, gender-specific bathrooms were a result of men’s anxiety regarding women’s place in the hierarchy of the workforce and world.

Others are against the idea of any gender-neutral restroom solution.

Senior Diego Perochena said he feels this way for privacy, protection and  religious reasons.

“I believe that if you were to have a bathroom for men and women, where would the privacy and security be?” Perochena said.

“For example, if there’s a man who is pretending to be a woman and he attacked the real woman that would be bad.

“I believe that God made us a certain way, and we were given different characteristics. If you go against that, it is not right, and therefore people should have to go into the restroom of the gender which they were born.”

Junior Christian Van Vleck said no adjustments should be made for financial practicality reasons.

“It would be different if we were a bigger school, but we don’t have any problems right now, and if we did, it would only be one or two people, so it is not worth the thousands of dollars and time to build  a new bathroom,” Van Vleck said.

Christy Vail, head of lower school, said that although there aren’t any particular programs that deal with gender identity, there are gender-neutral, multi-stalled restrooms in the prekindergarten and kindergarten, along with some adult bathrooms that could be used on both floors of the lower-school building.

“I know we would work with the children and their parents to make sure each and every child in our school feels comfortable if necessary,” Vail said.

Sandy Lyon, head of middle school, said that no problems have arisen so far and declined to comment.

Wells, speaking on behalf of the high school, said, “Although it is well outside our realm of expertise, it is a fascinating question. And bottom line we have to figure out what to do to make every student comfortable.”

By Alexa Mathisen

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