Debate Magazine

San Francisco Elementary School Adopting Gender-neutral Bathrooms

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

What could possibly go wrong?


SF Gate: Miraloma Elementary started removing the circles, triangles and stick-figure signs from restrooms at the start of this school year, in part to acknowledge six to eight students who don’t fit traditional gender norms — kids who range from tomboys to transgender, said Principal Sam Bass.

The decision follows a national trend in recognizing the needs of transgender people, a movement that accelerated when Olympian and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner changed her name from Bruce.

In schools across the country, though, bathrooms have become a battleground for transgender rights. On Monday, more than 100 high school students walked out of class in a small Missouri town to protest the use of the girls’ restrooms and locker room by a transgender teen.

So far, bathrooms in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms at Miraloma, as well as a centralized bathroom, are gender-neutral. The school will phase in the other restrooms used by older children over the next few years, including outside bathrooms with multiple stalls.

How that will happen and how much it will cost is still in question, but the community is committed to getting it done, Bass said. “There’s no need to make them gender-specific anymore,” he said, adding there has been no pushback from parents. “One parent said, ‘So, you’re just making it like it is at home.’”

Many schools across the country have gender-neutral, single-stall bathrooms available for transgender and other students, and Berkeley Unified is designating at least one at each school. Gender-neutral bathrooms, she said, were the thing her son was most excited about at school this year.

A 2013 California law requires schools to allow students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, a policy San Francisco passed 10 years earlier.

But it’s rare for schools to remove the boy-and-girl stick figures from all restrooms, said Alison Pennington, pro bono attorney for the Transgender Law Center in Oakland.

At Miraloma, parents started raising the issue to address the needs of students who didn’t fit perfectly into one gender or the other.

One first-grader was born a boy and identifies as a boy, but prefers to look like a girl, with long hair and traditionally female clothing, said his mom, Jae, who gave only her first name out of concern for her son’s safety. “I think most people don’t think about how difficult it can be, going to the bathroom for someone like my son,” she said.

She said that when her son went to summer camp, he chose not to face potential challenges by peers in either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom, and instead went in his pants. Embarrassed, he isolated himself from other campers, she said. “He was just struggling with it quietly,” Jae said. Now, “he can just use the restroom without thinking about it.”

Ari (l) and Ella (r)/The Chronicle Photo

Ari (l) and Ella (r)/The Chronicle Photo

Ari Braverman, 6, is also excited about the gender-blind bathrooms. Ari is a boy but doesn’t fit into boy stereotypes. He wears boys and girls clothes and doesn’t discriminate between pink and blue toys, his parents said. He wore dresses for a couple of years and now, “He still rocks the gold lamé stretch pants,” said his mom, Sarah Mattison-Earls.

“As parents, you eventually realize it’s not your job to change your child’s personality,” said Ari’s dad, Gedalia Braverman. “It’s not my job to identify and pigeonhole my children’s genders, and certainly it’s not the school’s.”

The school district’s responsibility is to create a safe environment for all students so they can learn and thrive, said Kevin Gogan, the district’s director of safety and wellness. That, he said, means accepting and accommodating the 1 percent of all middle and high school students who identify as transgender — who add up to more than 300 students.

While bathrooms have become a focus, they aren’t the only issue for transgender students, said Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, a political action committee that advocates for LGBT rights. “It’s really essential that schools protect them from discrimination and harassment” in all its forms, she said.

While few schools across the country are taking the gender-neutral leap like Miraloma, school communities are starting to have conversations about bathrooms for students who don’t fit traditional boy or girl molds, Pennington said. “The schools are really listening to the students, and responding to what their needs are,” she said.

Ella Braverman, Ari’s 6-year-old twin sister, loves the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms. If someone doesn’t refer to either gender, they might not be sure which bathroom to use,” said Ella, as she sat next to her brother. “I think it’s nice because then people don’t have to be separated just to go into bathrooms,” Ari said. “It’s just easier to go to the bathroom if there’s just a bathroom.”



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