SRVHS students seek gender-neutral bathrooms


Junior Niq Muldrow sometimes uses the gender-neutral bathroom in R-Hall

For most SRVHS students, using school restrooms is generally a routine experience. But for some, choosing which restroom to use on school campus can induce stress.

Kade Tillis is a freshman at SRVHS who identifies as a transgender male but uses the women’s restroom since he “presents as female,” meaning his voice, face and body appear feminine. He described using the women’s restroom as being “invalidating of his gender” and tries to avoid using restrooms on school campus.

Junior Niq Muldrow also identifies as a transgender male and chooses to use male restrooms. He explained that doing this causes him anxiety, since he is unsure who will be in the bathroom and whether he will be harassed.

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266, allowing students in public K-12 schools to use bathrooms and lockers rooms of the gender they perceive.

But some students still receive unwanted attention for using the bathroom of their choice. Muldrow has received strange looks and has been asked if “he knows he is in the wrong bathroom” or if he is in the correct bathroom.

Some individuals at the school who identify as non-binary, meaning they don’t associate with being male or female, feel uncomfortable using gendered restrooms. Junior Devon Fields described using the women’s restroom as “forcing myself to be in this gender role that I don’t identify with.”

The problems surrounding bathroom use are common. In a study conducted by Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law in Washington, DC, 10 percent of transgender students said they had excessive absences and dropped out of school because of bathroom issues, The Huffington Post, reported. Statistics such as these have led schools across the country to take action to be more inclusive.

Several schools across the state and country have addressed this issue by implementing gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. A gender-neutral bathroom is one that is neither labeled male nor female.

According to a September 2015 article in The San Francisco Chronicle, Miraloma Elementary School became the first school in San Francisco to implement gender-neutral bathrooms. Several colleges, such as those in the University of California system, also require gender-neutral restrooms.

Several students say construction now underway is an ideal time to implement gender-neutral bathrooms at SRVHS. The school has a few non-gender single-stall restrooms, such as one in R-Hall and another in the nurse’s office. But these can be difficult to access regularly.  

Gender-neutral restrooms can be implemented as single stalls or multiple stalls. Multiple stalls have several benefits including the fact that they would most likely result in shorter lines and prevent students from feeling as if they were isolated. Single stalls, however, would result in greater privacy.

SRVHS Principal Ruth Steele said the decision whether to include gender-neutral bathrooms on campus is left to the district but that the school supported the idea.

She said “I think it would be appropriate and important for us to do so for student rights and student safety,” she said. “It’s an issue that we should absolutely be looking at.”

Steele also said other actions would be necessary to promote the rights of transgender and non-binary students.

“The far broader concern is making sure that the adults on campus can know how to respond to different situations, they have the right language and terminology to use, that they have strategies to help with situations in classrooms,” she said. “So I think the bathroom’s important, but it’s symbolic rather than it’s actually going to make a difference by itself. A bathroom isn’t going to change people’s attitudes. It’s a recognition that that’s important but we have a lot more other stuff to do to actually make a difference to kids.”

A common concern is that gender-neutral bathrooms lead to more sexual assault. Fields argued that sexual assault occurs regardless and that transgender people were much more likely to be assaulted than cisgender people — those who align with their birth gender — in gendered bathrooms.

In the study by the Williams Institute, 9 percent of transgender individuals reported being physically assaulted for using the bathroom of their choice.

Several students suggested that gender-neutral bathrooms could benefit those who are not transgender or non-binary. Fields suggested such bathrooms could be a safe space for individuals who feared being bullied because of their body image.

Bathrooms have long been a battleground for civil rights. According to The Huffington Post, bathrooms played an important role in race relations in the 1950s, with African Americans banned from using the same restrooms as whites. In the 1970s, employers were slow in adding restrooms for women joining the workforce. In the 1980s, advocates for the disabled fought for bathrooms to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs.

Today, bathrooms have become integral to the struggle for transgender and non-binary rights. The dialogue surrounding bathroom use has become increasingly visible, as states such as North Carolina have passed laws requiring individuals to use the restroom of the gender described on their birth certificates.

Several SRVHS students see gender-neutral bathrooms as benefiting students in a number of ways. Fields explained that “a lot of people who are not cis or not straight often experience shame when they find that out about themselves or when they’re starting to figure that out about themselves because they feel like they’re wrong or they feel like they don’t belong. Having gender-neutral bathrooms would change that and make people feel comfortable and like they are valid in their identity.”

Junior Sam Mihalic, a member of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, emphasized that using bathrooms shouldn’t require much thought. “School is for school and academics,” she said, “and if you’re stressing over anything it should be about academics and not the bathroom that you choose.”

Recently, the transgender community has gained increasing prominence in the media, with celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner in the spotlight. Ashton Coons, an SRVHS freshman who identifies as a transgender male, saw implementing gender-neutral bathrooms as linking broader societal trends to the reality faced by the school’s students.   

“I think (gender-neutral bathrooms) will put more awareness in the community that we do exist. It’s not just something in the media. Like there are actual people that you do know who face this issue every day,” he said.