UAHS marches towards a more inclusive school

By Greyson Van Arsdale, ’17

Since the 2015-16 school year, UAHS has planned to house a “family bathroom” that would be inclusive of all genders, located under the main staircase. The administration’s original plan was to complete the bathroom by the end of last school year. However, as UAHS begins 2017, the bathroom is still under construction.

Assistant principal Lou Vazquez explained that work on the family bathroom is ongoing and has not ceased.

Vazquez is one of the school’s most adamant supporters of the family bathroom and has pushed for it since the idea’s conception.

“I want every student to be comfortable, regardless of gender, race, whatever that word may be. I want every student to have the opportunity to come to school and feel safe, with no feeling of threat, or feeling that they would have to hide,” Vazquez said.

WHERE WE STAND

Though the family bathroom remains incomplete, progress has not stopped. While the project was originally planned to be finished by the end of last school year, the administration was plagued with a problem: what to do about locks.

Locks on bathroom doors are necessary to protect the privacy of users, but the administration also didn’t want to create a situation in which the door could not be opened if necessary.

To solve this problem, administrators worked over the summer and beginning of this year talking to local families and students in order to discuss what they would feel comfortable with, according to Vazquez.

The administration has since reached a conclusion to the debate. The door connecting the bathroom to the hallway will not be locked; however, inside the aisle leading into the bathroom’s main chamber, there will be a door with a sliding lock, similar to those on bathroom stalls in other UAHS restrooms. It will be able to be accessed in emergencies, but this way the privacy of users can be maintained.

“This way, it’s not locked, but if someone comes in there they can be respectful. I think that makes it just like any other restroom,” Vazquez said.

Since this issue has been solved, construction on the bathroom is set to begin again. According to Vazquez, the door is the final piece needed for the bathroom to open. The bathroom should be completed and open in early February.

During the 2015-16 school year, Arlingtonian staff members Bre Hart and Dylan Carlson interviewed transgender freshman Asher Franz, now a sophomore.

Franz identifies as male, and during his freshman year was restricted to using the unisex bathroom in the nurses’ office, and he was excited for the family bathroom to be completed.

“What this [new] bathroom means to me is that I can finally feel like a human in society, instead of some person that doesn’t have a right to just use the bathroom like everybody else,” Franz said last year. “It’s about time that I should use the bathroom and not feel awkward or try to avoid going to the bathroom. We [transgender people] have the right to feel comfortable and happy.”

When Hart and Carlson surveyed the student body last school year, roughly 58 percent supported the family bathroom, with 46 percent knowing someone transgender.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

On a national level, bathrooms intended to include non-cisgender individuals have been called “all-gender bathrooms,” “unisex bathrooms,” and sometimes just “transgender bathrooms.” However, UAHS has explicitly named their solution the “family bathroom,” an important choice that adds to the intended message of the bathroom.

Vazquez explained why the administration made this choice.

“We call it [the family bathroom] because there’s a changing table in there, and that table will be for families who come and visit,” Vazquez said. “I dont want to say that ‘family bathroom’ is more comfortable, because that’s the wrong word. It’s just that it’s a more inclusive area for people to use the facility.”

So while this bathroom would immediately affect the lives of UA’s genderqueer students, it’s also available to visiting families. This would be a big improvement, for example, for a father with young children, because the family bathroom will have a changing table, which are typically not available in men’s restrooms.

Whatever it’s called, Vazquez believes that the bathroom is an important and necessary addition to the high school in order to provide a safe environment for the entire student population

“If we’re going to talk about being a family here at school, we can’t just talk about it, let’s do it and let’s provide that for people,” Vazquez said.

JUST IN TIME

News of the UAHS family bathroom came at a time of controversy in America, as late 2015 and early 2016 were fraught with arguments over accepting non-cisgender individuals into the bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity.

In March of 2016, South Carolina passed House Bill 2, also known as the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” which opponents called “the most anti-LGBT law in America,” according to PBS.

The law repealed a previous vote that would allow transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choosing, and went even further to bar South Carolina cities from passing anti-discrimination laws in the future.

Similar laws have been introduced in the state legislatures of Kentucky, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

In May of 2016, conservative Ohio House Rep. John Becker of Cincinnatti floated the idea of a similar “bathroom bill”  after hearing of Target’s new trangender-friendly bathroom policy.

“Although well meaning, ‘gender identity’ is not defined and can be very fluid. Their reckless policy serves as an invitation to sexual predators to pose as transgender persons in order to gain easy access to a smorgasbord of women and young girls,” Becker wrote in a report.

However, after meeting with several transgender individuals for an hour and a half, Becker said that his view on transgender issues had been widened.

“It was fascinating to hear their stories and to attempt to see the world from their perspective. It was a very good exchange of ideas and concerns. Additionally, it was very helpful to me on multiple levels. That’s progress,” Becker wrote. “As children, we learned that there are males and females. It was binary. The world has changed. Male and female is now a continuum.”

Though the school district of Upper Arlington has no official policy on who can use which bathroom according to the handbook,  it is typical for transgender or nonbinary students to use the unisex bathroom located in the nurse’s office.

However, this unofficial practice has created problems in the lives of some transgender students.

“I really need the new restroom. Using the nurse’s restroom is literally the worst thing. I don’t think they were notified that I need to use it,” Franz said.

Using the nurses’ office became such a problem for Franz that he went to the administration and argued for his right to use the men’s bathroom.

So while Franz may be beyond the use of the gender-neutral bathroom, it could be imperative to students new to their gender identity or just beginning to be comfortable with themselves.

Senior Ivan Rollit was on the same page with Franz when interviewed by Hart and Carlson last year.

“When I think about it, I feel like their intentions are good. I think the fact that they are even doing it is good. However, I feel like it should be fine for them [transgender people] to go into restroom of their chosen gender. It is not a complex issue. If a girl became a guy then he is just a guy and a guy who became a girl should be seen as a girl. It’s simple,” Rollit said.

However, UAHS’s family bathroom can still serve a purpose to those who are questioning their gender or don’t fit into the gender binary, like UAHS senior Ginger Ravine, who identifies as agender and uses pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’.

Ravine, who is a co-president of UAHS’s Gay-Straight Alliance along with senior Trent Popovitch, was excited to hear about the family bathroom.

“I doubt it’ll be done by the time I graduate, but for all the LGBT, trans and nonbinary kids who are there in the future, it’ll be great for them,” Ravine said.

Setting a Precedent

Bishop Watterson sophomore Zoë Lamaze, who identifies as lesbian, sees a need to introduce the concept of a unisex bathroom to schools.

“Schools everywhere have at least one [LGBT] person, whether they’re out or not. They could feel uncomfortable with going to the bathroom that they’re forced to go to, but they don’t want to come out,” Lamaze said. “But if they’re unisex bathrooms, they don’t have to tell anyone if they want to stay in the closet.”

“I feel like.. it’s a bathroom. Anyone should be able to go to a bathroom,” Lamaze added.

However, she also noted that such a bathroom would be against the teachings of Bishop Watterson, a religious school.

“Probably, because we’re Catholic, and we believe in the gender [binary], it probably wouldn’t go over well,” Lamaze said. “But our small [LGBT] community would be very happy.”

Ravine hopes that other high schools may follow UAHS’s example.

“I’m not sure if it will set a precedent, but I can hope it will, because I’d love to see gender-neutral bathrooms at other high schools. I think that Arlington does set a lot of precedents for other high schools around Ohio,” Ravine said. “I think this is a good step, and hopefully other high schools will see the benefit too.”