Lily Gordon, ’17
On Monday, April 24th, BHSEC changed the multi-stall previously boys’ and girls’ bathrooms on the fourth floor into gender neutral bathrooms. The Rainbow Club (BHSEC’s LGBTQ+ advocacy group) spent months on the campaign to make this change, and the success of its implementation felt like the payoff of months of work. However, it quickly began to feel like just the beginning of a broader movement in school policy change to make BHSEC a more inclusive space for LGBTQ+ students.
For many queer students at BHSEC, the shift to having 2 multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms (as opposed to only the single stall bathrooms on the 2nd and 4th floor) made sense for various reasons. With the single stall bathrooms of the past, students had to ask for a key to open the door (which didn’t lock from the inside). Some students recalled being questioned if they couldn’t just use the binary bathrooms. The key itself used to have a block tied to it with the word “woman” written on it. The need to ask permission for a key, the lack of the number of bathrooms available per floor, and the othering of the single stall bathrooms made them impractical, ostracizing, infantilizing, outing, and delegitimizing of identity. The poor advertising of the bathrooms by the school also meant that huge numbers of incoming freshmen didn’t even know the single stall bathrooms existed.
Now, the single stall bathrooms use airplane locks, so students no longer have to ask permission to use these bathrooms. The multi-stall bathrooms are available for all students, regardless of their gender identity (whether they identify as nonbinary, or a boy or a girl, or any other identity). Another great reason for an all gender multi-stall bathroom is that it requires no outing or isolating of the person who uses it, allowing people to more easily explore their gender identities in comfort.
The Rainbow Club was initially inspired for their campaign by the case that gained national attention with Gavin Grimm’s plea to use the boys’ bathroom. As a transgender student, he received unequal treatment as he was made to use the nurse’s bathroom or a single stall bathroom, which was an ostracizing experience for him. As a club, we felt that similar unequal treatments occur with students at our school. Even though we had gender-neutral bathrooms available, the fact was that the students who would need to use them often didn’t. We realized that although our school had a policy meant to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, in practice it was largely failing us.
In the Rainbow Club’s gender-neutral bathroom campaign, we used a variety of schemes. Charles Hale, 10th, came up with a “pee-tition” (or a petition to ask for multi-stall bathrooms). Sofia Rodas, 10th, did a huge amount of legal research to determine the state and city’s status on LGBTQ+ laws in schools. Cole Neufeld, 9th, Kai Franks, 9th, Jessy Irimescu, Y1, and Maya Brady-Ngugi, Y1, were incredible vocalizers and advocates throughout the process—from speaking at PTA meetings to speaking with Dr. Lerner and Ms. Haberman. Overall, each member (beyond just those mentioned) contributed time and effort into this project.
After various meetings with Dr. Lerner where we discussed the potential hurdles of making the change and ways other high schools were making the shift, we were finally able to take the binary signs off the fourth floor doors and tack on the all gender signs.
Although we are so grateful that the faculty and staff were willing to work with us, Sofia explains how schools have a duty to make their students feel comfortable. She says, “When students are subjected to bias in even using the bathroom, it’s safe to say something isn’t working out. So the first step here was adding gender-neutral bathrooms. Now what we need to do is normalize and de-stigmatize the bathrooms as well as gender identity as a whole.” For Sofia, improving our bathrooms represents a larger movement to stand in support of LGBTQ+ students and make schools inclusive spaces for all.
Maya Brady-Ngugi, one of the future facilitators of the club, simply feels that “it is important that as a school we move forward to make our environment and community safe for everyone, and the gender-neutral bathrooms do that.”
Kai, who is non-binary, said, “It’s hard to be told, constantly, that you don’t have a place. That your identity isn’t valid. That’s how I feel in most public spaces: not just the insistence of ‘he’ in reference to me, but of public bathrooms’ consistent conformity of me into a gender that I don’t conform to. I still am misgendered every day, but after having finally opened the all-gender bathrooms I’ve started to feel as if my identity has begun to be accepted and validated by my community.”
On reflecting on the success of the bathrooms, Cole Neufeld ‘20 feels, “The success [of the bathrooms] has proved that the administration is somewhat invested in trans rights and has made me hopeful for improving conditions for LGBT students in the future. But the way the students and faculty have responded has honestly disappointed me and made me realize we have a lot less allies then I thought—it just proved we have to do a lot to change the school culture.” More specifically, Cole recalls, “People referring to it [the bathroom change] as ‘sjw bullshit,’ sneering about the All Gender sign, refusing to use the bathroom closest to them, one student saying that if she saw a boy in the ‘girls’ bathroom she’d spit on him. For the first three weeks after they were installed I couldn’t go somewhere without hearing people talk shit.” Olivia Musumeci, 9th, said more people use the bathroom near 402 than the one near 412, and that girls specifically tend to use the bathroom near 412 less (possibly because of the urinals).
The Monday the signs changed, the members of the Rainbow Club were ecstatic, as were many of the allies who signed the pee-tition or is some way vocalized support. Yet later that day, I heard two boys in the CTO mutter to each other, “I don’t get why they changed it. I didn’t think there was anything wrong before.” I heard murmurs from students filled with confusion and disgust at the change and felt a pit in my stomach as I saw some of the insensitivity and transphobia at our school. I saw boys jumping in and out of the previously girls’ bathroom like the floor was on fire or like baby deer just learning how to walk. I saw girls taking selfies in the new bathroom saying they’d always wondered what the ‘boys’ bathroom looked like.
In the coming year, Rainbow Club has a campaign to train students and faculty about respecting and integrating pronouns into their classes and more generally learning about different sexualities and gender identities and how to be inclusive and respectful of others. Various faculty members have shown a dedication to bring about inclusivity, such as Ms. Gamper, who spoke in favor of the campaign after a faculty meeting, Dr. Rosenberg, who included a question asking about pronouns on an online survey sent to students, and various other teachers who are working on changes to the way they structure their classes to be more inclusive, as well as Dr. Lerner, who worked with us to make the change happen.
It will take a while for the school to forget what these bathrooms used to be. It will take longer to educate the students about what transgender and nonbinary students face in a society that continually rejects their identities. But a generation will come who never knew a BHSEC before it had bathrooms anyone could use, who thinks of BHSEC as an institution that will stand by queer students—regardless of the political climate that is hell-bent against us.