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Students Win Fight For LAUSD's First Gender-Neutral Bathroom
Sometimes history is made loudly with speeches and camera flashes; sometimes it happens quietly, with lunch hour after lunch hour spent sitting cross-legged on the floor of an otherwise empty theater classroom, making posters, writing petitions, and planning presentations. After today, it's safe to say that the thirty-some members of Santee Ed High School's Gay-Straight Alliance are versed in both venues of history-making. A cadre of news cameras rolled as GSA members and school administrators announced the opening of LAUSD's very first gender-neutral bathroom at a press conference Thursday. Holding colorful homemade signs and rainbow flags, students marched, cheered and chanted.
The "Just a Toilet" campaign began with a lesson on the meaning of a safe space. Faculty club advisor Jose Lara told LAist that during a lunchtime discussion some club members spoke about feeling unsafe using school bathrooms because of their gender identity, which spurred a conversation about what could be done. That was back in January.
Santee students gather signatures. (Photo courtesy of Jose Lara)
"Going to the restrooms that I'm biologically born to makes me really uncomfortable," said GSA leader and Santee senior Alonzo Hernandez. "I get stared at, I get harassed. If I do go in, people look at me twice and I have to wait in the bathroom stall for everybody to clear."The group started by asking themselves a simple question: if we wanted to advocate for a gender-neutral bathroom, how would we do it? Lara describes the process as being its own lesson in activism, where students learned about the organizing process as they went. "I never did a campaign before. I didn't know what the hell I was doing," said Kween Robinson, a Santee junior and fellow GSA leader.
There was some initial pushback, first around awareness about what a gender-neutral restroom even was, followed by worries about safety, particularly from school administrators who worried that a mixed-gender bathroom might open the door for, well, hanky-panky (this is still a high school). Students developed a comprehensive safety plan, including the use of an existing school-wide anonymous tip line and a structure for staff to periodically monitor the bathroom. The months-long campaign also included extensive research into other bathroom campaigns, a petition signed by over 700 students, meetings with administrators, and more than twenty classroom presentations.
Students marching. (Photo by Julia Wick)
The basic right to safely use a bathroom has become a political battleground as of late, but, as students and administrators explained, a couple of things have to be done to actually get it right. Schools will often either designate a single-stall bathroom somewhere far from the center of campus for transgender students to use, or they'll give students permission to use a faculty or nurse's office bathroom on a case-by-case basis. Though arguably still better than nothing, these approaches single transgender students out and potentially force them to self-identify while they are in still in the process of transitioning. What the Santee students wanted—what they fought for—was a dedicated multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom in the center of campus—a bathroom that any student could use.
"We don't want to be excluded," 15-year-old Juliet Dominguez said at the press conference. "All the single-stall restrooms are hidden on the side of the campus. We don't want to have to wait in line to go to the bathroom. It's just a toilet."
Cameras prepare to film the original sign being removed. (Photo by Julia Wick)
Lara told LAist that the group took a "toilet tour" of Santee in early February, visiting all the school's bathrooms and talking about what would be safest and most accessible. In the end, the much ballyhooed new bathroom isn't a new at all—it's a multi-stall former women's restroom on the school's second floor, right in the heart of campus. All that will change is the sign and the expectation of who will use it, Lara said. After the outdoor ceremony, press and students crammed into a hallway to watch GSA leaders tear the old sign off the door and affix a new one. "You're welcome to go inside if you are wondering what a regular restroom looks like," Lara told the group.
GSA leader Kween Robinson gives an interview outside the restroom. (Photo by Julia Wick)