By AVA WELSH
For the purpose of privacy, some names in this article have been changed to protect the students who shared their experiences and/or opinions on this article.
Over the past few years, one issue has taken the country by storm. Gender Neutral Bathrooms.
A gender neutral bathroom is merely the umbrella term for any restroom that is completely unisex. The movement for these restrooms arose from various LGBT+ groups’ desires to create safe spaces for transgender and genderqueer people as well as the general population. While having gender neutral bathrooms has already become the norm in some parts of the country, including West Hollywood, they have yet to make an appearance at UHS. However, for the past two years, the UHS Gender-Sexuality Alliance, better known as the GSA, has been making efforts to change that.
Carrying the torch for the movement this year is the current GSA president Anna Zeng (Sr.), who plans to continue the petition started early last spring -which has already received over three hundred student signatures alongside a multitude of student testimonies- to get these restrooms installed.
The movement began last year under former GSA co-presidents Sofya Ogunsteitan and Nick Poldruhi. who, according to Zheng, realized the extent of the bathroom crisis for LGBT+ students on campus. “About mid-way through last year, we realized that there were a lot more non-binary people at Uni as well as students falling under the categories of transgender or just gender questioning, and that we all needed a place to go the bathroom without fear or anxiety hanging over the whole process.” Zheng explained, recalling what happened last year. She went on to say that creating gender neutral bathrooms is a part of the Safe Spaces program, which works to ensure that everyone has a “safe space” both on and off campus.
“So far, we’ve done petitions and have had two meetings with Dr. Astor. The club’s members and board have been presenting evidence on why it would be necessary and easy to install these bathrooms on campus.” Zheng said when asked about the current progress of the movement
Other members of the GSA board have spoken out in favour of the movement as well. The club’s head of events, Miguel Zamudio (Sr.),said, “Adding these restrooms to our school’s campus will help the LGBTQ+ students feel more comfortable and safe on the UHS campus and it will also bring our school together to show we all support and care for one another.”
Delving deeper into the conversation, Zheng began to explain just why UHS needs gender neutral bathrooms and how they are not just for the LGBT+ students on campus.
“There are lot of non-binary people at school including myself; there are also transgender students, meaning their gender does not match their sex given to them at birth. Some of our LGBT+ students are being harassed a lot in bathrooms, and generally using a restroom you don’t identify with can’t be an uncomfortable and dysphoric experience. It’s not fun either way, it’s either a battle inside or on the outside.” Zheng said. Dysphoria is a term often associated with transgender people who are experiencing emotional unrest or anxiety due to their physical appearance not aligning with the gender they identify with. Often, according to Zheng, using a restroom you don’t feel comfortable in or that you don’t identify with can trigger severe dysphoria making the entire experience stressful for genderqueer students.
Constructing these bathrooms, according to Zheng, will mean creating a more accepting space for LGBT+ students and their allies across campus. A member of GSA, C.B. (Jr.), said, “Being transgender at UHS, I don’t feel comfortable in either bathroom. When I go into the girls’ [bathroom] it feels wrong and people stare when I’m passing as a guy. And I’m terrified of using the men’s because I don’t want to be harassed or hurt even though I know I would rather be doing my business in there. Having gender neutral bathrooms will help because nobody will be thinking I don’t belong in there, because they’re for everyone.”
The fight for these restrooms is far from over and the club needs all the support it can get from student petition signatures and personal testimonies. Zheng said, “I give the proposal a fifty-fifty chance, and I know there are a lot of people who support it and we always want to encourage those who want to give their support to come to club.” Zheng said, “And though many people are in support of this change, ultimately, it all comes down to the School District Board. But we definitely want to encourage the school to take this step forward, to help make UHS a model for other Irvine schools whose students desire gender neutral bathrooms.”
GSA meets every Monday in Mr. Mallis’ room, 905, during lunch.