What exactly does it mean to have genderless bathrooms?
Last month, parents in the Lake Oswego School District expressed concern after hearing about plans for genderless bathrooms at the new Lakeridge Middle School set to open this fall.
Many worried about student safety and were frustrated with a perceived lack of communication at recent meetings.
The bathrooms at LMS will look similar to genderless bathrooms at other middle and high schools across the country.
The district worked closely with the design advisory committee, whose members included district parents.
"The design advisory team met regularly to talk about all the design aspects of the new school including bathrooms," Mary Kay Larson, director of communications, said.
LMS will have 31 individual toilet rooms in the main restroom area with communal sinks in the restroom hallway. The toilet rooms are floor to ceiling to ensure privacy.
In addition to that, LMS will have 17 single-occupancy, full-use restrooms equipped with a toilet, sink, menstruation products and accessibility features. Two of the single-use restrooms will include staff-assist Hoyer lifts and adult-size changing tables and two will include baby changing tables.
The district's goal is to create options for all people that are safe and private. The FAQ page on the district's website addresses main concerns parents may have. "People at the new Lakeridge Middle School will have a choice of restroom options to accommodate their needs without segregating any person. The universal design of gender neutral restrooms makes them more equitable and inclusive and the room layout makes them much easier to supervise and manage, hence safer," the page reads.
In an survey by the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth, 58% of transgender and non-binary youth reported being discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Genderless bathrooms reduce that stigma.
In 2018, the school district released plans for genderless bathrooms at the new Lakeridge Midlde School. It was discussed at a school board meeting that August and the Review reported on it that November. Still, many parents felt communication was lacking.
"If I were to go back to 2018 knowing what we know now I think I would do more ... where it's a little bit more of an iterative process — where we can start with information and data and education about the different types of bathroom designs so that we can maybe help bring the community along a little bit more in the process," Larson said.
Before the Lake Oswego School Board could approve any actions on their agenda Monday, Feb. 24, board members heard a flurry of public comments — spanning almost an hour and a half — on a range of topics, but mostly on the new bathrooms at LMS.
Many community members and members of the greater Portland area gave public comment in support of the of LOSD's adoption of non-gendered bathrooms in LMS.
Liz Murvihill, parent and nurse in the community said, "Thank you for having this school that will make it a safe place for trans and gender non-binary."
Some community members said gender-neutral bathrooms are not age-appropriate for middle school.
Others were upset about the lack of communication before design plans were set in stone.
"I do take issue with the communication, frankly. To this day our own elementary school has not sent any communication to us as parents that have a vested interest in this. So I have a feeling that there is a larger group out there that — support or not — don't even know this is happening and that's an issue," LOSD parent Haley Thomas, who has a daughter in fifth grade, said. "This is public money. Every single penny must be scrutinized."
Amy Hendricks, a parent in the district, was concerned about safety. She said "We do need to have some (bathrooms) that are appropriate for children that don't feel safe in either a boys or a girls bathroom, but there are girls — little girls — that don't feel safe going to the bathroom with an eighth grade boy." She posited that non-gendered bathrooms are not safe.
Some made the point that any inappropriate behavior that would happen in a restroom would take place in any setting, and is not a result of the restroom.
"The reason that people get assaulted isn't because they're in a gender-neutral bathroom, it's because our society teaches men that it's their right to take advantage of women," Phoebe Holman, a student at Lakeridge High School, said. "I support this because I want people that I care about to be able to exist in public. It's their right to have a bathroom to use."
Sy Howard, a non-binary individual who works in the community, agreed with Holman's point. "The right to exist in public ... that's what we're fighting over," Howard said.
Martha Gantz, a Lake Oswegoresident, spoke against genderless bathrooms and asked for a compromise. "We can have gender-specific bathrooms and have an equal amount of genderless bathrooms," she said.
Cameron Iizuka, a junior at Lake Oswego High School, said that the compromise of three different restrooms further alienates trans and gender-non-conforming students. "Obligatory accomadation is intergration — allowing for non-conforming students to have a bathroom to use but still clearly distinguishing them from the rest of the community," Iizuka said.
Superintendent Lora de la Cruz addressed the comments and concerns during her update at the meeting.
"What I heard tonight was an underlining of an appreciation for the inclusivity priority behind the design of our bathrooms and I also heard concerns for safety and comfort for all users, so we've been working with principal (Kurt) Schultz and thinking through some next steps," she said.
Schultz is working with Larson to create a taskforce that will aim to create a channel of communication as the process continues with the bathrooms. Larson said it would be made up of students, parents, teachers and staff and would advise on the operational component of the bathrooms.
"And part of that will be, I'm anticipating, taking a tour of the St. Helen's Middle School restrooms during school hours so we can talk to the principal and staff and students and see for ourselves: what are the goods and the bads and things we need to be planning for?" Larson said.
She wants the team to also be able to go into the new Lakeridge Middle School site to put final touches on the plans before school starts in the fall.
"We'll touch base and convene as necessary throughout the year if we need to revisit anything," Larson said.
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