In response to the School Success and Opportunity Act, made effective on January 1 of 2014 by governor Jerry Brown, Coronado High School is working in conjunction with the student-run Gay-Straight Alliance to give transgender or nonbinary students a private bathroom space.
The School Success and Opportunity Act, which is the first of its kind in the country, requires that California public schools respect students’ gender identity and ensure that all students can participate in school activities, sports teams, after-school programs, and use the facilities that match their gender identity. This act explicitly allows students to choose the bathroom that coincides with their gender, but students who don’t identify as either male or female might feel uncomfortable in a single-gender bathroom.
Walker Hewitt, 18, is a senior at Coronado High and the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. In his last weeks of high school, he’s taken on the challenge of converting a rarely used staff bathroom into an all-gender bathroom, a step that he believes would make several members of the LGBT community more comfortable at school.
“An all-gender bathroom would also increase awareness and representation for the transgender and nonbinary community,” he said. “Legally, I think there will be a lot of steps and it's gonna be pretty crazy making this happen, but I have hope and dedication.”
Principal Jenny Moore said that the issue of a transgender or nonbinary student needing a private bathroom space has come up in the past and that the school has been able to respond with a short-term solution.
“I think that all schools are struggling with the dilemma of providing a long-term solution,” she said, citing “family bathrooms” as an example of how public spaces have solved the issue. “Having a locking bathroom available at a school raises some safety concerns, but in the instance we had a student who needed a private space, we would provide access.”
According to a survey conducted in July 2014 by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, over 150 schools across the country have an all-gender bathroom available to students. Parents and families in these communities have claimed that all-gender bathrooms are an invasion of privacy, an attack on traditional values and a way to promote spying on the opposite sex. However, Hewitt believes that an all-gender bathroom would help more people than it has the potential to harm.
“There are some very legitimate concerns with an all-gender bathroom on a school campus,” said Hewitt. “But in the case of students spying on one another...we’re almost adults. We should know better.”
Though no date has been set, Hewitt said that CHS students can expect to see an all-gender bathroom on campus by 2016.