An Oregon high school has just reclassified six bathrooms as unisex bathrooms to create an option for transgender and gender-nonconforming (GNC) students and faculty who might feel uncomfortable using the "male" or "female" bathrooms on campus.
Grant High School in Portland, Oregon remodeled four student bathrooms and two staff bathrooms in order to accommodate the 5 to 10 transgender students at the school, though anyone may use these single-stall restrooms.
While some transgender and GNC people may use the bathroom that corresponds to their proper gender (that is, the one with which they identify), others feel apprehensive using bathrooms separated by sex. This change means these students no longer have to worry about something that most people take for granted.
"We just need to make sure that all students are safe and comfortable here, and that they have their needs met," said Kristyn Westphal, the vice principal who helped lead the initiative. "If they feel unsafe using the bathroom, that's a problem."
One student, 17-year-old senior Scott Morrison, even stopped drinking water at school so he wouldn't have to choose which bathroom in which to relieve himself.
"I definitely got some really weird looks in the women's restroom. It is just not comfortable," he said. "[And] I just don't feel safe in the men's restroom."
While his transition from female to male went over relatively smoothly with friends, his bathroom anxiety persisted until Grant High made the change.
Now he says, "You don't even have to think about it, and that's great."
It's not just transgender and GNC students celebrating the new bathrooms, as several gay and lesbian students are also praising the school's decision.
Sophomore Alexa Booher called the change "fantastic" because the new bathrooms make students of all genders and sexualities feel comfortable.
This move is relatively uncommon for K-12 schools across the country, as most schools just make smaller bathrooms or staff bathrooms available for transgender and GNC students. Grant High is the first school in its district to create several unisex bathrooms for students.
The conversion cost less than $500, as school officials only had to change interior looks and add new signs.
In stark contrast to Grant High's progressive actions, legislators in the state of Arizona have written a bill that would punish transgender and GNC people who use the "wrong bathroom." Bills like these highlight the range of struggles that transgender and GNC people face, as something as simple as going to the bathroom would become a struggle. In fact, the reason that most transgender students drop out of high school is because they feel uncomfortable using the bathroom.
According to Grant Magazine, the school's news source, the administrators have chosen to not hold an assembly to inform students of the bathrooms' opening in order to avoid "putting a spotlight on an already vulnerable population."
"Many people don’t understand the context of it," said principal Vivian Orlen. "An announcement wouldn't give the right message." She added that unisex bathrooms have been present in New York schools for several years.
The bathrooms have been in place since February, with no issues reported so far.
Every student deserves to feel comfortable at school, and Grant High's landmark decision could spark other schools in the western United States to follow their lead. 16 states plus the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression, including Oregon, so it should be a natural choice for schools in these areas to create gender-neutral bathrooms to decrease potential harassment before it even happens.