By Diana Peña
As of September, Los Angeles Unified School District officials say all schools have at least one gender-neutral restroom. The move was prompted by a 2016 state law that mandated that all employers and government agencies provide a lockable single stall restroom accessible to all genders.
In Boyle Heights high schools, attitudes towards the change, as well as implementation procedures, vary. Some schools have made the change quietly, while others have celebrated it as a statement of inclusivity for their LGBTQ+ students.
Across the district, many single-stall restrooms merely received new signage. Some are restrooms located in more private areas, such as nurses’ offices.
Seth, a transgender junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School who prefers not to have his last name used, says the change shows that the school administration acknowledges all types of people.
“Gender-neutral bathrooms are vital to have on campus for the trans/non-binary community, because it’s safe place within a safe place,” Seth says. Previously, Seth would go with a friend to the boy’s restroom and go alone only if nobody was there, for fear of being bullied.
LAUSD Board members say the LGBTQA Youth Council brought concerns and gave input last that helped the school board draw up and unanimously pass a five-point resolution in July regarding not just gender-neutral bathrooms, but also other issues, such as recognizing the month of October as LGBTQ+ Month, adding students to the high school textbook adoption committee,
providing a page on the LAUSD website dedicated to LGBTQ+ resources and training teachers, staff and family members on LGBTQ+ issues.
“They had a lot of ideas,” says Ray López Chang, LAUSD’s director of community engagement, Northeast. “We kind of helped them think through how this can be implementable districtwide. We decided to coalesce [their ideas] into one resolution.”
Roosevelt a trailblazer
Some schools, like Roosevelt had already implemented gender-neutral restrooms before the state law passed. In 2016, Roosevelt became one of the first local high schools to provide gender-neutral bathrooms
According to principal Ben Gertner, students advocated for the change. “I think that we were hearing from students that this was something they wanted,” says Gertner. “It was growing over time.”
At Roosevelt, the school implemented the restroom quietly; something Gertner says was by design.
“I think it’s important to the students who want to take advantage of the gender-neutral restroom that it’s kind of low-key,” says Gertner. Students have to get a key, which is kept at the counter in the main office.
Gertner says the school has targeted outreach to clubs and networks whose members are most likely to want to take advantage of the gender-neutral restroom. “I think that they’re aware of it, without having to make it into this big deal,” he says.
As at Roosevelt, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School’s gender-neutral bathroom came at the behest of students.
“I think it’s good for all schools to have a gender-neutral restroom because it allows students to feel more comfortable,” says senior Axel Tirado. “It gives students a sense of belonging or validation in that there’s not just a [bathroom for] male or female binary people.”
Tirado, an active Genders & Sexualities Alliance member, helped lead efforts at Mendez to implement a gender-neutral restroom. He says the school GSA looked at Santee Education Complex, which implemented the first gender-neutral bathroom in the district in 2016, as a model.
Unlike at Roosevelt, however, Mendez surveyed students for opinions on the implementation and visited classrooms with presentations that introduced and educated students and faculty on the topic.
At Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet, the sole single-person all-gender bathroom is tucked into the nurse’s office. As at Roosevelt, few students know about it. Even the vice president of Bravo’s GSA, Angel Cervantes, wasn’t aware of it.
Need to raise awareness
Chang agrees that more work has to be done on school campuses. “Something that we’ll continue to develop with more efficiency is the communication. The idea is to raise awareness,” he says, “not just implement action. It sets the tone for things that principals and teachers should be thinking of.”
While district officials say they have not had a lot of pushback about the restrooms, some students say they have heard objections.
“I have a teacher who is really against it. He was against it from the start,” says Brady Snyder, a Mendez student. He says the teacher’s objection had something to do with whether people unsure of their gender needed a separate bathroom.
“They either don’t care or are really against it because they’re not used to it. They’re not used to people changing and society changing,” says Snyder of critics. “They’re just uncomfortable with it.”
Tirado says he’s been involved in a heated argument with a school employee and a school cop. “I’m just happy the incident happened to me and not necessarily someone who was not necessarily educated or someone who would’ve just stood down,” he says. “I stood up for what I believed in, and luckily, I had other witnesses there.”
Officials say schools can request multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms. The district plans to improve communication with school administrators so that students can better understand the changes.
For many teenagers, the bathrooms represent a positive change. While the Trump Administration has proposed taking rights away from transgender people, LAUSD has taken a step forward to side with their LGBTQ+ students.
“As someone who is struggling with gender identity,” says Cervantes, all gender “restrooms are a small but significant milestone, where it’s OK to be this way. “