By SABRINA HUANG
Gender-neutral bathrooms for all to use are being planned for UHS in order to better serve the needs of all students, as legally obligated under the bill signed into law by Governor Brown this past September. The administration anticipates that the bathrooms will be put in place by the end of the 2016-17 school year, but latest by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
According to Assistant Principal Kris Kough (admin), the gender-neutral bathrooms will be single-stalled bathrooms using facilities already available. The three pairs of gendered bathroom complexes currently on campus will not be changed.
“[We’re currently looking at bathrooms on campus with] dual-use facilities inside [so we can] re-allocate bathrooms that are already in existence [instead of constructing new facilities].” Kough said.
Though the administration is not certain of the locations of the gender-neutral bathrooms, there likely will be two on campus, one of which is the de facto gender-neutral bathroom in the nurse’s office and another one which will be opened on the farther side of campus around the 500s building.
However, there are still a number of issues the administration needs to address before opening gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. According to Principal Kevin Astor (admin), there are a number of technical details to consider.
“[The bathrooms] can’t really be locked,” Astor said. “I don’t feel comfortable if students can go into places and lock the door behind them because you don’t know if behind that locked door something appropriate or inappropriate is happening or something dangerous or safe.”
This means the gender-neutral bathroom that will be opened on the farther side of campus will not be lockable, unlike the bathroom currently in the nurse’s office. To solve the issue of privacy, Astor states that the bathroom will have some means of giving occupants a separate space for using the facility.
Because there are no plans to build new bathroom facilities, Kough does not expect the project to cost a great amount of money.
“[This project] shouldn’t cost us anything,” Kough said. “The only thing that I foresee cost-wise would be [changing] signage and locks.”
The decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms on campus was largely a result of student activism, specifically from the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) on campus.
“[Gender-neutral bathrooms] would make the transgender population at UNI feel much more comfortable and would allow us to use the restrooms at school,” GSA President Anna Zeng (Jr) said. “As a transgender person, bathrooms are always terrible experiences for me, and having a more accessible gender-neutral bathroom would be so amazing.”
Last school year, the GSA, under the direction of former president Sofya Ogunseitan, circulated a petition calling for the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. The petition eventually ended up being signed by hundreds of students around campus and according to Astor, started a string of conversations between the administration and students of GSA.
“We’ve had several conversations with students from GSA who have made the request that our multi-stall restrooms would be converted to gender neutral,” Astor said. “We processed that request and that request was actually discussed at the district cabinet level and what they [decided was] they [would] have to look at all of their schools and they have to make sure that whatever they put in place is something that’s replicable at other places.”
Because all of Irvine’s schools are built differently, however, the district wasn’t able to come to a consensus on what should done at UHS. As a result, the school board is looking for ways to successfully carry out the orders of this legislation for all schools in the school district.
“There’s a pace with which [public schools] move that for a lot of people is too slow, but we have to think through all the different scenarios because our students are changing every year,” Astor said. “Oftentimes we’ll rush to a solution that we think is obvious but because we went so fast, we didn’t realize that there’s all these other scenarios [we didn’t think about].”
Gender-neutral bathrooms is no new issue both locally and nationally. With the recent rise of LGBTQ+ activists across the country, the movement for gender-neutral bathrooms has gained momentum over the past few years. In 2014, nearby University of California Irvine (UCI) changed a number of single-stall bathrooms across campus into gender-neutral bathrooms to better serve the LGBTQ+ community.
Students have various opinions regarding the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms.
“I view gender-neutral bathrooms [as] essential for the mental well-being of my fellow students,” Eric Nguyen (Jr.) said. “ I believe that equitable treatment and open-mindedness for just that is paramount for a functioning learning environment consisting of people with different needs.”
“I don’t believe the bathrooms are a necessity for me but then again I don’t represent all students needs,” Rodrigo Palmaka (Sr.) said. “I’m sure some people would value this option but we must weigh its priority in regards to other issues. I also believe no student should receive special treatment on a basis of race, ethnicity, sex, or religion.”
However, the UHS administration wants students to know they are fully supportive of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
“I think it’s just important to note that we want to support all of our students on campus and we want all our kids to feel safe and secure and comfortable,” Kough said. “And a part of that process would be the re-allocation and the opening up of the bathrooms that support their LGBT community.”