How We Got an All-Gender Bathroom

I'm proud I helped make my school more accepting

by Sydney Henriquez

I joined my school’s Gender Sexuality Extra (GSX) club with my friend Laura at the beginning of junior year. We are both part of the LGBTQ community and wanted to join a group that is accepting of everyone’s differences. At the first meeting, we all went around in a circle and said our names and pronouns.

Next, Milyoung, one of the teachers who ran the club, said we had something important to discuss. “A student told us that he feels uncomfortable using the boys’ bathroom,” she said. “I think we should advocate for a gender-neutral bathroom, not just for him, but for all transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

We all nodded in agreement. I was an acquaintance of two students who are trans, and I was familiar with the idea of a gender-neutral bathroom, one anyone can use regardless of their gender identity. I had seen them in some public places, but I never thought about having one in my school.

My school is generally accepting, but we still have work to do to make trans and gender non-conforming people feel welcomed and respected. Teachers and students sometimes misgender certain kids and don’t make an effort to ask everyone’s pronouns or correct themselves when they make a mistake. I was excited to work on a project that would make our school more inclusive.

Over the next few months we continued meeting to come up with a plan. We also surveyed 100 students, and the majority said they felt comfortable having a gender-neutral bathroom in school. If they didn’t want to use it, they would still have the option of using the single-gender bathrooms.

Developing a Proposal

We wrote up a proposal to change either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom on the second floor into a gender-neutral bathroom. We decided to present our proposal at the next GSX summit.

Typically the summit starts with a dance party and food and then we present panels. Previous panels have taught teachers some LGBTQ history and talked about the lack of LGBTQ sex education in schools.

On the day of the summit, we hung Christmas lights around the cafeteria in an array of rainbow colors. We turned up the music.

My friend Laura, Milyoung, and I sat in the front of the classroom near the projector. In a few minutes almost all the chairs were filled. Laura read our group’s proposal out loud, and then I asked for feedback.

“Even though I am not religious, this goes against Islam,” one teacher said. I wondered what he was talking about. I didn’t think the Koran said anything positive or negative about a gender-neutral bathroom. It sounded like an excuse, because if someone is uncomfortable with a gender-neutral bathroom for whatever reason, they still have the option of using a single-sex bathroom.

Another teacher had a more valid concern: Kids were doing drugs in the bathrooms. He said the school should prioritize installing smoke detectors and cameras before taking on this project.

Presenting Our Plan

I felt like this was just another excuse not to have a gender-neutral bathroom. Adding cameras also felt like an invasion of privacy. Some of the teachers agreed cameras weren’t appropriate. They thought there were better solutions, like only allowing students with a pass to use the bathrooms outside of lunch.

After all the panels were done, I worried that our proposal would get rejected. But over the summer, the faculty discussed it and our plan got the green light.

On the first day of school, Laura and I checked out the new bathroom. We were disappointed to see the school hadn’t renovated it to have both urinals and stalls. They just took down the girls’ bathroom sign and put up a laminated one that says “All Gender Bathroom.” The other downside is it has to be unlocked with a key. The person who has the key is not always at their desk, so the all gender bathroom is not always accessible.

Still, this experience has shown me the benefit of speaking up for what’s right. It wasn’t the first time I engaged in advocacy. I had joined my school’s protests to end gun violence and against some of Trump’s policies. But it was the first time that I was actually part of the planning. It felt great to be more involved.

Nobody should be afraid of being bullied or made fun of for going into the bathroom that matches their gender identity. I’ve graduated, but the GSX club will continue to fight to keep the gender-neutral bathroom open during school hours. Though it’s not a perfect solution, I think it’s a step towards equality and acceptance for all genders and sexualities. I’m proud to be part of that change.

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