By: Megan Leung & Emma Gampper
At the beginning of the 2018 school year, students at High School North discovered that one of the bathrooms at the end of the upstairs math hallway had been transformed from a girl’s restroom to a gender-neutral restroom.
The gender-neutral bathrooms are not new—North already had converted two other bathrooms in previous years. The first of the older gender-neutral bathroom is down the athletic hallway in the trainer’s office, while the second is in the nurse’s office. Another gender-neutral bathroom has been created right off the main hallway. These three locations combined with the one upstairs make the bathrooms accessible to gender nonconforming students regardless of where they may be in the school.
The purpose of these new bathrooms is not only to make North a more inclusive space for all students, but also to comply with a state law that was signed at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Over the summer, Governor Chris Christie passed Bill A4652/S3067, which was put forth by New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. Huttle’s bill requires schools to follow a predetermined set of guidelines regarding the treatment of transgender and, though not explicitly mentioned, non-binary and gender fluid students.
According to this bill, schools cannot deny students usage of locker rooms or bathrooms that correspond with the gender with which the student identifies. In case the student’s safety is in question, the school must provide “reasonable alternative arrangements” (Bill A4652/S3067). This bill also addresses other topics including physical education, the use of proper gender pronouns, and the freedom transgender students have in their choice of wardrobe. The law was put in place to ensure the safety of transgender, gender-neutral, and non-binary students, and to create a supportive and accommodating learning environment.
Accordingly, Assistant Principal Peter James cites the effort to establish a safe atmosphere as the primsry rationale behind never formally announcing the formation of the new bathroms to the student body. “In an effort to be conscious about the needs of our gender non-conforming students, we created additional gender neutral bathroom to provide them with a space to have the same experience as everyone else ,” said James.
Bill A4652/S3067 also asks that schools allow and actively support student clubs that involve LGBTQ+ topics, something that High School North has already been doing with student-run clubs like the Gay-Straight Alliance. “As we’re moving forward in time, we’re seeing more people identifying as gender-fluid or non-binary; adapting to those needs is important, and I think the bathrooms are a good first step towards making sure everyone in the school feels comfortable and safe,” said GSA President Aamir Horton.
In October, the Trump administration announced that it is attempting to pass legislation that will use the genetalia that one is born with to determine gender. This announcement has sparked protests throughout the nation as many believe that the administration’s actions have been a setback for the LGBTQ+ community. North, however, continues to stride forward and is constantly looking for ways to make their transgender and nonbinary students feel comfortable and safe in the school environment.
Ultimately, the conversion of the restrooms was initiated in otder to make the school a more comfortable place for students who are transgender, identify as gender fluid, or identify as non-binary. The administration hopes that their decision to do so is respected by the student body, allowing the additionnal restrooms to offer a source of betterment for the whole High School North community.