“Going to the bathroom in school is rarely enjoyable. However, for transgender students in [the public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland], answering nature’s call can be a stressful or at times dangerous process. For a long time, our school board has failed to address this important aspect of student safety and well-being,” writes Zander Foster Phillips, a student at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, on MoCoStudent.org, a press network established for students in the county.
Zander reminds people that “transgender” can be defined as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate)” (Human Rights Campaign). “Many people claim that transgender students are using the wrong bathroom, arguing that a student’s body, not identity, should determine which bathroom they use.”
Zander was born as a girl but identifies as a man and feels he shouldn’t be using the girls’ bathroom at his school. A unisex bathroom would be one possible solution, he suggests. As a freshman, he used the bathroom in the nurse’s office. “For a while that worked,” the Bethesda Beat quoted him as saying. “My issue became that the nurse’s room is on the other side of the building and I would usually miss 10 minutes of class every time I had to leave class.”
The district created a working group to examine questions like bathroom and locker room use by transgender and gender non-conforming students. The group is led by Lori-Christina Webb, an administrator, but so far has made no actual recommendations, relying instead on the district’s general guidelines for creating comfortable environments for all students.
But, “We are required by the state to do reporting and one of the things we report out is gender,” Ms Webb was quoted as saying. Officials in Montgomery County Public Schools were getting more and more questions like, “A student transitioned from male to female and wants to use a female name and is identified in our school as a female, but can we change the name in the student information system?” she said.
Those types of questions are big for state school officials, but in the schools, the big questions are over bathroom and locker room use. We’re happy that officials in MCPS are working with the small number of individual students who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. MCPS is one of the 20 largest school districts in the country, with a student population around 156,000, up from 104,000 in 2010.
A case in Nevada, about this very same issue recently came to our attention. A transgender middle school student in Elko County last month decided he wanted to use the boys’ bathroom and locker room at his school, and when the school board rejected his request, the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the district to protect the student’s rights, the Associated Press reports.
This case could be a catalyst in the state for lawmakers to reconsider a bill that would require students to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex, which they, thankfully, rejected. Nevada is one of eight states to consider and reject such a policy, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, which tracks the issue.
But lawmakers in Nevada are also looking at the effectiveness of other laws that deal with many more bullying-related issues than the specific transgender bathroom use question. The state just passed an anti-bullying law that creates a special office at the state level for handling bullying-related issues that come up, including transgender questions like this one. Gov Brian Sandoval touted it in May as one of his proudest accomplishments.
Along with transgender issues, some lawmakers hope the middle school bathroom question will bring the bullying question into the light as well. They want questions like this to fall under local, not state, control, since state agencies can take too long to deal with issues when they come up. Lawmakers in Nevada could learn from those in other states, like Maryland.
For now, the student will continue to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office, as Mr Phillips did when he was a freshman. The district in Nevada is smaller, but the issue facing it is identical. After a while, the nurse’s bathroom could become inconvenient, and some sort of formal policy, whether at the state or school district level, will be compelled.