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VIEWS Advocating for gender-neutral restrooms in schools
by Avery Patterson
2019-03-03

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"Which bathroom should I use?" is a question that many of us don't have to ask ourselves on a daily basis.

But for gender-diverse and trans youth, this decision is one they have to face every time they simply need to use the restroom. In addition, the trans and gender-diverse youth are at risk for discrimination and judgement in whichever bathroom they choose. The binary "pink and blue" bathrooms don't allow everyone to use the bathroom in peace. If gender-neutral bathrooms were included in all schools, students who are gender-diverse would feel less stressed about choosing a bathroom and and their fears of safety would fade.

The main rationalization for this claim is that gender-neutral bathrooms would reduce fears of safety for gender-diverse students. Although worried parents and teachers believe that gender-neutral bathrooms would increase crime rates and sexual harassment risks, research refutes this claim. Researchers at the William Institute found that there is no apparent crime increase between states that have gender-neutral bathrooms and ones that do not, meaning that gender-neutral bathrooms wouldn't be a problem of safety. On the contrary, they would actually be a huge benefit in resolving worries of safety for gender-diverse youth.

Jacob Tobia—an LGBTQ+ activist/writer who is gender-nonconforming—has said, "If I choose the women's restroom, I risk facing panicked women who take one look at my facial hair and assume that I'm a predator. If I choose the men's restroom, I risk facing transphobic men who, with one glance at my dangling earrings, begin hurling slurs or throwing punches." Tobia's quote is disappointing to think about, but describes reality for gender-diverse people. Although he is an adult, his experiences and those of many others have carried through from childhood years up through adulthood. While this issue of safety isn't something many of us normally experience or witness, it is common for gender-diverse, especially trans people to experience danger and harassment in binary restrooms. One of the main concerns when creating bathrooms is keeping them safe, and gender-diverse youth should not be exempted from this standard. This is exactly why we need an alternative choice.

Additionally, a survey by NCTE ( reported by Daniel Trotta in 2016 ) further illustrates danger for trans youth in bathrooms. Few cisgender youth avoid school bathrooms beyond being forced to by janitorial cleanings. However, transgender and gender-diverse students avoid bathrooms daily. They are forced to worry about taunting and embarrassment, even over something so small, like which bathroom a person enters. This can, and usually will, cause transgender youth to "hold it" instead of having to choose a bathroom. The survey by NCTE found that 32 percent of transgender people limit the amount of food or drink they intake so that they don't have to use a restroom. Eight percent reported having a kidney or urinary-tract infection because they avoided bathrooms for so long.

This reinforces how badly traditional restrooms are affecting the physical health of gender-diverse youth. It's important that all youth feel safe in bathrooms, and just as important that they are safe and healthy. Students who are transgender deserve to use the bathroom safely, and they should not have to deal with health issues. Restrooms are meant to be safe spaces, and a student's right to use it as just that should not be revised in conditions regarding gender.

Another significant factor in this debate is how gender-neutral bathrooms would make gender-diverse youth feel more comfortable choosing a bathroom. Students generally need to use the restroom once a day. But for gender-diverse youth, this experience causes anxiety. In 2016, Sonali Kohli reported on Alonzo Hernandez, a transgender teen who had to choose between the binary bathrooms for most of his life at school. "Being questioned about my gender ... when I go to use the restroom makes me feel uncomfortable," Hernandez said. "I just want to be able to, you know, use the restroom without being questioned."

This is significant because Hernandez's experiences perfectly illustrate what every day is like for gender-diverse students. They aren't able to use the restroom without looks being shot at them, and judgements made of them. That creates worries and anxiety associated with going to school, which leads students to dread it. If Hernandez felt this uncomfortable in the bathroom, there's a significant amount of kids in many schools who feel the same.

In fact, the Williams Institute published findings about transgender teens. According to the data, one in 137 teens identifies as transgender. Although not every transgender person has experienced the same discomfort in the bathroom as Hernandez, they've most likely had experiences that make them feel uncomfortable about gender. Hearing about kids having thoughts and feelings like Hernandez's should be a wake-up call for school boards. Schools need to implement gender-neutral bathrooms.

Although schools may think they are doing the right thing by excluding gender-neutral bathrooms, they are not. School boards should not selectively filter out trans and gender-diverse students, purely because they don't fit into "boy" or "girl." Gender-neutral bathrooms would reduce the anxiety around making a choice and would make restrooms safer for transgender youth. As students, it's up to us to change the bathroom system. You can help by talking to your school administrations. Schools need to include bathrooms that have room for everyone, regardless of gender.

Avery Paterson is a seventh grader at Northbrook Junior High School in Northbrook. She recently wrote this piece as an argumentative essay for her language-arts class. This piece is being run with permission from Paterson's mother.


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