School creates gender-neutral bathrooms

PORTLAND — Portland's largest public high school has reclassified six bathrooms as unisex to create another option for transgender students and faculty who feel uncomfortable with traditional bathrooms.

The move is a first in the district and relatively uncommon nationwide for K-12 schools, which typically make staff or other small bathrooms available, The Oregonian reported on Saturday. The school has between five and 10 students who identify as transgender.

Grant High School's Scott Morrison, who was born a female but identifies as a male, says he stopped drinking water at one point so he wouldn't have to choose between gender-specific bathrooms.

Now, Morrison says he doesn't have to struggle with the choice. Four student bathrooms and two staff restrooms, all single-stall, were part of the conversion. "It's a godsend," Morrison said.

Kristyn Westphal, the Grant High vice principal who helped lead the initiative, said administrators acted after counselors raised concerns. "We just need to make sure that all students are safe and comfortable here, and that they have their needs met," Westphal said. "If they feel unsafe using the bathroom, that's a problem."

Michael Silverman, executive director of New York-based Transgender Legal Defense, said the issue of transgender rights will continue to grow. "What we are seeing is the beginning of one of America's next big civil rights challenges," Silverman said.

At Grant High School, officials designated smaller bathrooms throughout the school as "unisex" in February. For restrooms containing two bathroom stalls, officials installed interior locks to prevent multiple students from using them at the same time.

The conversion cost less than $500, most coming from changing to interior locks.

Sasha Buchert, communications manager of Basic Rights Oregon, called the change "a really wonderful partnership between student advocates trying to create a safe space for transgender and nonconforming students and the school system to find a solution that will ensure folks can go to school and focus on learning."

Others, while supporting the change, also worry that equating single-stall unisex restrooms with the transgender population can be stigmatizing. Jenn Burleton, the executive director of TransActive, said most transgender students simply want to use the restroom of their identified gender.

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