Tag Archives: unisex

Oconomowoc School District adopts ‘gender-neutral’ restroom policy

Oconomowoc School District Superintendent Rodger Rindo announced last week that unisex bathrooms would be installed at every school in the district.

The new policy was adopted in response to an incident involving a transgender elementary school student. Parents complained after the student used a girl’s restroom at Summit Elementary School on Sept. 6. Apparently, they believed she should have used the boy’s room.

In a press release, Rindo said converting one restroom at each school into a “gender-neutral” bathroom “will provide a facility which is safe and accessible to all students, not only to transgender students.”

“What’s really important is that we’re not singling anyone out – that anybody can use that bathroom,” Rindo told FOX6 Milwaukee.

Maureen White, a youth program coordinator of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, told FOX6 that the Oconomowoc School District deserves praise for standing up for transgender students.

“I think it’s really important for the young person to have facilities that they feel comfortable in,” she said. “The truth is, there have been gender neutral bathrooms at the malls, at universities, and at the center for the last 10 years.”

Despite such positive feedback, FOX6 reported that some parents complained about the policy off-camera, saying their children are not ready to learn about such issues.

Oconomowoc is located in Waukesha County, the most conservative county in Wisconsin and one of the most strongly Republican suburbs in the northern United States.

Oregon County requiring unisex bathrooms

Oregon’s most populous county is requiring that gender-neutral bathrooms be included whenever a county-owned building is constructed or remodeled, a move to accommodate transgender employees and visitors.

Multnomah County board Chairman Jeff Cogen signed the executive order earlier this week. The Portland-based county is among the first local governments in the nation to have such a rule. It was patterned on legislation recently approved by the city of Philadelphia and was inspired by a local high school that earlier this year designated six single-occupancy restrooms as unisex.

It’s not known how many of the county’s 4,500 employees are transgender. County officials, however, say the directive will make life better for those who are uncomfortable using restrooms labeled “women” or “men.”

“What we have is complaints; people who just tell us their stories,” said Kalissa Canyon-Scopes, policy director for the county’s Office of Diversity and Equity.

Those stories include transgender employees who rush home at lunch to use the bathroom, find a business with a single-occupancy toilet or hold it in all day.

Addie Jones, program assistant at Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center, said some transgender residents avoid eating and drinking to lessen their need to use a public bathroom. For them, Jones said, it is preferable to the intimidating looks and embarrassing questions (“Excuse me, don’t you know you’re in the wrong restroom?”) they get when entering a bathroom assigned for people who don’t look like them.

The order is not expected to cost much money. The county only one has one construction project in the pipeline, a new Multnomah County Health Department headquarters that will employ 250 workers and include clinics for the public.

The county will also assess its 120 existing buildings to see if they include gender-neutral bathrooms. If they do, signs will be added to alert employees and the public.

In the county’s main building, for example, there are traditional men’s and women’s restrooms on the first floor, but single-toilet bathrooms are on four of the other five floors.

Rather than construct a new bathroom on the first floor, the level most used by the public, the county simply put up a sign that states: “Gender neutral restrooms located on floors 2, 3, 4, 5.”

“That has a very significant practical impact, but not a very significant expense,” Cogen said.

Oregon high school creates gender-neutral bathrooms

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

The move is a first in the district and relatively uncommon nationwide for K-12 schools. The school has as many as 10 transgender students.

Transgender Grant High School student Scott Morrison 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.

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.