Monta Vista’s new gender-neutral bathroom sparks discussion

October 29, 2015 — by Claire Chou and Austin Wang

As push for transgender equality continues, local high school creates gender-neutral bathroom.

For transgender people and those who identify with neither of the two traditionally acknowledged genders — called nonbinary — an act as simple as using a public bathroom marked male or female can be disorienting and even frightening.

When then-Monta Vista High junior Nikki Stuart encountered this problem as a newly out transgender student at the end of the last school year, Stuart decided to do something about it.

Having read about gender neutral bathrooms being put in other schools, Stuart and other members of Monta Vista’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) spoke with their club adviser and then went to principal April Scott with their concerns.

Having heard and understood these concerns, the Monta Vista administration decided to alter a single stall bathroom into a gender-neutral bathroom over the weekend of Oct. 10.


Why are gender-neutral bathrooms needed?

Gender-neutral bathrooms are a growing trend across the nation as people recognize marginalized gender identities. According to the Huffington Post, more than 150 colleges across the U.S. have gender-neutral bathrooms.

Instead of the male/female gender binary under which most of the world operates, advocates of marginalized genders describe gender as a spectrum, with varying degrees of masculinity and femininity. Stuart, co-president of Monta Vista’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, said that support has grown in the community as more students have come out as transgender or nonbinary and are voicing concerns at school.

Stuart added that anxiety and dysphoria — mild to severe discontent based on a disconnect between one’s self and the idealized self — can be triggered by using gendered bathrooms, and that all students deserve to go to the bathroom safely, regardless of potential triggers.

“The bottom line is that no matter what the reason, everyone needs to go to the bathroom, and no one should feel uneasy about that experience,” Stuart said. “To make this happen, we need gender-neutral bathrooms on campuses.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms, according to the Transgender Law Center, provide a way to eliminate discrimination and harassment and establish the privacy necessary for students to be comfortable with their gender and sexual orientations at school.

Ollie Venzon, a nonbinary sophomore at Monta Vista, explained how gendered bathrooms put people of marginalized orientations at a disadvantage. Not only are they uncomfortable with pigeonholing themselves, but they also find the idea of being confronted about what their gender is and why they are in the bathroom “pretty terrifying.”

Scott said both student multi-use bathrooms and staff single-use bathrooms had previously been gendered on campus. Then, the school decided to convert a bathroom in the downstairs of the “A” building because it already had ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, was single-use and had stall walls for privacy.

Logistically, the bathroom was fairly simple to convert.  The single use bathroom’s lock was changed to not require a key and opened on Oct. 13, with a unisex sign that Stuart hopes to change into the inclusive bathroom sign.

Venzon reported that it was just like a regular bathroom, except for the number of stalls, and said that it was clean, easy to use and nice to have.

“It’s more comfortable for me to use than the men's or women's room,” Venzon added.


The Saratoga reaction

With ongoing construction on the campus of Saratoga High, some students and staff believe that now is the perfect time to consider a gender-neutral bathroom.

“If there are students who are saying or who are feeling uncomfortable by what facilities they are forced to use, then we have to respect and care for those needs,” said English Teacher Amy Keys, the adviser for Coexist: Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

Junior Simrun Buttar similarly supports the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms at SHS.

"If they supply a safe place for nonbinary and transgender students, then SHS should definitely incorporate them," Buttar said.

Senior Ruby MacRae, who discussed her bisexuality in a profile in The Falcon last year, said that the school exhibits negative and transphobic behavior, adding that the existence of a non-gendered bathroom would validate nonbinary kids and ease the transition of transgender kids.

“Putting in a gender neutral bathroom or two would definitely be a step toward acceptance and equality, and I think a lot of kids would really appreciate it,” MacRae said.

Principal Paul Robinson said that having gender-neutral bathrooms might be appropriate and that the school is looking into the issue. While administrators have watched Monta Vista’s decision and its students’ response, there has not been a push from SHS students or anyone else in the community for them.

“If it is something that is a need, then obviously it's something we want to do,” Robinson said.

Robinson and the administration said the administration is open to feedback, and he will meet some of the other principals in the area in a month or so to discuss this issue.

A possible objection is that the bathrooms may not be safe, or that they might not be fully utilized once converted.

MacRae argued that it would not hurt binary gender students to change one or two of the bathrooms, and that “if someone isn’t trans, the bathroom isn’t really their business.”

Arguments against gender-neutral bathrooms suggest that the gender neutral bathrooms will be unsafe and will paint a target on nonbinary students.

This is why having stall walls was so important to Monta Vista’s administration when it was choosing a bathroom to convert. With the same partitions for privacy as in gendered bathrooms, Monta Vista hopes it can prevent conflict.


Trend increases across country

Gender-neutral bathrooms are becoming more prevalent in schools across the nation. According to recent studies, gender-neutral bathrooms do more than protect transgender and non-binary students from dysphoria — anxiety and depression over one’s gender designated at birth.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, Jody L. Herman, Williams Institute Manager of Transgender Research, found that 70 percent of gender-nonconforming people in Washington had problems in gendered bathrooms that ranged from being attacked to being denied entry.

The study also illustrated the medical issues indicating the severity of their inability to safely access bathrooms in public. Fifty-four percent of those who responded reported complications such as dehydration, kidney infections and urinary tract infections; 10 percent of the respondents who attended school reported negative effects, such as dropping out and excessive absences related to difficulties with restroom access; and 58 percent avoided going out in public because of an inability to access safe public restrooms.

“This fear of ridicule or violence can force trans or nonbinary people to avoid eating or drinking, or simply refuse to go so they don't have to make a decision between gendered bathrooms when they have no other option,” Stuart said.

As Saratoga High watches and waits, Monta Vista stands by its decision to create a gender neutral bathroom.

“All of our students are due restrooms that allow them freedom of choice,” principal April Scott said.

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