While the administration at MIHS likes to stress the importance of inclusivity, it has failed to provide the most basic necessity for their entire student population: access to restrooms.
Cathy Gentino, a counselor at the Resource and Referral Place at Mercer Island High School and an advisor for the Queer-Straight Alliance, said,“there are definitely students who identify as transgender and would like to have the comfort in seeking out the bathroom of their choice.” Segregated restrooms can be a menacing place for people who are transgender, gender queer, or gender non-conforming. Gender neutral restrooms are available to everyone and can provide a safe and convenient space for people of all genders and sexes.
Ash, the co-president of QSA, is a part of the LGBTQIA community at MIHS and is a strong proponent of the idea of gender neutral restrooms.
“I’ve heard a lot of similar stories from trans and non-binary students at our school. They get nervous about the bathroom or get rude comments and stares. A few of our members find themselves late to class because they have to use the nurse’s bathroom. I think our need for gender neutral bathrooms are becoming more and more apparent. I think that having a gender neutral bathroom would make anyone who is trans, questioning, or non-binary have a space where they don’t have to worry about being harassed,” said Ash.
Creating a gender neutral restroom requires students and staff to be aware of new terminology concerning gender identity and sexuality. In order to prevent unwarranted attention upon students who choose to use gender neutral restrooms there will need to be “enough awareness raising and education,” said Gentino, so that students can become familiar with the concept.
Educating the students of Mercer Island through a comprehensive list of terminology and frequently-asked questions about this topic will help to eliminate the possibility of harassment or confusion among the student body towards individuals who choose to use a gender neutral facility. These lessons could occur in Bridges or Health as part of the necessary curriculum for all Islanders.
Last spring, West Seattle High School created one of the first gender neutral bathrooms in a high school in the Puget Sound area. This movement was led by the school’s GSA.
Brandon Weglin, a junior at West Seattle High School, said of the positive reception, “Students were all super open to the idea of gender neutral bathrooms. I think we all realize the importance of gender neutral bathrooms. Every student should feel comfortable when using the restroom and not have to pick between the two strict genders: boys and/or girls. I’ve even used the gender neutral bathrooms.” Weglin explained there was some resistance from adults in the community who, “thought it was disgusting that the school was letting us open a gender neutral bathroom,” however Weglin “[hasn’t] heard of any students that were or are against it.”
Legislation in many states is beginning to reflect the growing recognition and usefulness of gender neutral restrooms. On Sept. 30, 2016, California passed a law stating that all single-stall toilets in businesses and organizations will be “gender neutral” – a notable victory for transgender rights.
Implementing gender neutral restrooms on Mercer Island High School’s campus will prove this community is truly embracing a humane definition of its 2020 vision.