Going to the bathroom in school is rarely enjoyable. However, for transgender students in MCPS, answering nature’s call can be a stressful or at times dangerous process. For a long time, our school board has failed to address this important aspect of student safety and well-being.
The Human Rights Campaign defines transgender or trans* to be “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate)”. Many people claim that transgender students are using the wrong bathroom, arguing that a student’s body, not identity, should determine which bathroom they use.
This idea is outdated. I am a transman, and I feel that it is unfitting and inappropriate for me to be in a girl’s restroom. Indeed, there is another option for me, the boys’ room. However, I feel unsafe in there and fear violence. I attend Richard Montgomery High School where though the administration seems to be aware of the harassment taking place, transgender and gender nonconforming students still feel that they are not validated.
Though I have found accommodations by actively seeking help from administration, for some students, it very is difficult to approach an adult, especially if they do not want to reveal that they are transgender. Revealing one’s identity in any circumstance is difficult. One of my close friends had to take great lengths to explain her identity to a teacher so that he would let her use the bathroom in the nurse’s office.
The issue isn’t limited to my school or state. Schools across the country have transgender students, many of whom are crippled with fear at the thought of using the restroom. I have used the nurse’s office as my primary bathroom for three years now, and I miss an average of ten minutes each time I need to leave class to walk to the farthest end of the school. If we made one, single stall gender neutral bathroom on each floor, or even on one floor in the middle of the school, we would eliminate fear, secure our safety, and return transgender students back to class on time.
A gender neutral or “unisex” bathroom is open to people of any sex. The installation of these facilities would largely benefit those who are transgender or who face animosity in gender-specific restrooms. A survey conducted by the DC Trans Coalition shows that 70% of transgender students have experienced animosity in gender specific restrooms. The instances reported include physical and verbal harassment, access being blocked, and abusive comments towards their gender. I myself have experienced all on this list and more.
Homophobia and transphobia will not disappear overnight, but we can set an example in MCPS that we will not tolerate the neglect of transgender and gender non-conforming students. Going to the bathroom isn’t something that should be feared, and MCPS has a responsibility to make school safe for all students, not just the cisgender (non-trans) students. Many MCPS high schools have Gay Straight Alliances as a resource for students to share openly their thoughts and feelings with other LGBT students and allies. And although there is this support system in place, GSAs alone will not bring about change. Change comes about through a concerted effort.
Zander Foster Phillips, Richard Montgomery High School
Editor’s note: Zander is the first place winner of the MoCo Student’s inaugural ‘Young Voices Matter’ contest.