As of early 2016, Centennial High School in Champaign, Ill. has opened up their first gender-neutral bathroom for students, thanks to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. With the controversy about transgender bathroom rights happening in the now, this gives hope to students and teachers in the LGBT+ community.
The bathroom, located on the first floor of the school, is single-stalled, small, and equipped with everything that other bathrooms in the school have. Instead of being labelled “men/women,” the sign above the door simply reads “restroom,” and all students are welcome.
“I really don’t feel like it should even be an issue,” says Joshua Doniek, supervisor of the GSA at Centennial High School, about the transgender bathroom rights. “It makes me feel a little hopeful for the issue that we have a gender-neutral bathroom here at Centennial. I’m hopeful that everyone will have one.”
Doniek is starting out his second year teaching at Centennial, and is admired by most, if not all, students who attend GSA. However, people weren’t always as accepting as they are today.
“Things were a lot different in 2008,” he says. “I went to a small school. It (being gay) was looked down upon, people made fun of you. It was really scary.”
Fortunately, things today are a little easier for those in the LGBT+ community. “For one, we are allowed to actually have a GSA,” says Kim Summers, a supervisor of the GSA at Urbana High School.
Summers graduated her last year of high school in the early ‘90s and remembers that back then, most people didn’t even come out of the closet until college. “It just wasn’t safe in high school.”
Jai Rice, a transgender student at Centennial, has been attending GSA since the beginning of his freshman year. “It’s a place where youth can go and not feel judged. They take advice and things, but they are also given the chance to be a part of a change, big or small.”
According to Rice, having a gender-neutral bathroom available at the school makes transgender students feel more safe and comfortable, himself included.“It makes me personally feel more safe. I don’t have to worry about the looks people give me, and I don’t have to constantly look over my shoulder for things that might endanger me.”
A little-known fact amongst the students at Urbana High School is that there is actually a gender-neutral bathroom available in the nurse’s office. While it has not been officially labelled as one, it is where students are advised to go when they do not feel comfortable choosing to use the male or female bathrooms.
Although it is a small step forward, Summers doesn’t believe that it is quite enough. “It’s not easily accessible. Our school is large and it’s in only one location,” she says. Beyond that, most students may not be comfortable asking to use the restroom in the nurse’s office each and every time. It would be much more convenient to have one available in the halls of the school. Summers is an advocate for that. “In GSA, that is one of our goals. To get that out there.”
She proposed that they make stalls with privacy doors that other people cannot see into by the cracks, and a trash can is placed in each stall for the students that would need it. They wouldn’t need any urinals; students can just use the toilets.
With hope and a lot of work, there will in time be a gender-neutral bathroom opening up in the halls of UHS. In the meantime, the GSAs at both schools will continue to provide a safe environment for all students and work towards keeping the community progressing forward.
“Education is most important,” Summers says. “That’s going to be a focus of GSA. Like not using the word ‘gay’ inappropriately… ‘that’s so gay!’ That’s where it all starts. Education.”