Student Equity Alliance advocates for gender-neutral bathrooms at Summit High School |

Student Equity Alliance advocates for gender-neutral bathrooms at Summit High School

Members of the Summit High School Student Equity Alliance speak to the Summit School District Board of Education about making gender-neutral bathrooms available for students in the district.
Doug Graver/Courtesy photo

The Summit High School Student Equity Alliance spoke to the school board at its Oct. 14 meeting, sharing the work the club is doing to open gender-neutral bathrooms to everyone in the high school.

The club includes students who advocate in support of gender inclusivity, helping to organize the Inclusivity March in 2020 and the Pride March this summer. The club wants to see gender-neutral bathrooms and changing rooms, as well as LGBTQ health curriculum in the schools.

According to state law under the Department of Regulatory Agencies, people are allowed to use facilities — bathrooms, changing rooms, locker rooms, etc. — in public buildings that align with their gender identity and not their assigned gender at birth. Student Liam Macreery said Boulder Valley School District has a policy specifically stating that transgender folks are allowed to use the bathroom that best fits their identity.

“There has been a general lack of education and health curriculum that is probably responsible for these issues, since if people are uneducated about what they are talking about, they will unfortunately not see the importance of making any change,” Macreery said.

Student Emily Carisch explained that the students’ hope is for the locked bathrooms reserved for staff to be unlocked and open to everyone as a gender-neutral option.

“When we say, ‘gender-neutral bathrooms,’ we mean single-stall bathrooms with locking doors that are open to all students, not just people who identify as trans or queer,” Carisch said. “(They’re for) all students, all staff, and it can help more than just queer people in our school.”

Student Lily D’Onofrio said gender-neutral bathrooms are important because they keep students from feeling unsafe and can help prevent students from being outed — the act of disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender without their permission. She said gender-neutral bathrooms could also help eradicate social stigma about gender identity and open students’ minds.

“One of the reasons why only three of us are at the meeting today is because members of our club don’t feel comfortable being vocally affiliated with this club quite yet,” D’Onofrio said.

Carisch said there are not currently any district policies about queer students, which she said means there are no policies protecting queer students in the district. She said the nurse’s bathroom is the only gender-neutral bathroom in the high school and that it’s a far walk from the academic wing.

Carisch said she knows teachers who have students asking for their staff bathroom keys because they aren’t comfortable using the men’s and women’s restrooms.

“Not only is this happening regularly, but we also see we’re a growing county, and this is based on trust,” Carisch said. “If you don’t know these specific teachers, then you don’t have access to the bathrooms that you’re comfortable using.”

They also presented student testimonials about how gender-neutral bathrooms would improve students’ experiences at school.

“It was powerful to hear the voices of students for whom going to the bathroom — something I don’t even think about — is a huge, big deal every single day of their lives,” said board member Tracey Carisch, who is Emily Carisch’s mom. “I think it’s important that we as a cisgender population literally hear that voice”

In order to gather data, the club sent out a survey to Summit High School students and staff to try to gauge how any changes would be perceived and how much students know about LGBTQ issues. Questions asked about attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, as well as how safe and welcome students feel at school.

“Welcome is more of an emotional safety than it is physical,” D’Onofrio said. “It’s human nature to want to be accepted and feel a part of something, and the fact that (114) students feel at least moderately unwelcome at our school is a very large problem.”

The stat D’Onofrio referenced was the number of 561 respondents who rated their feeling of safety at or below a 5 on a 10-point scale. D’Onofrio said school should be an emotionally safe space, and that the district should jump at any chance to improve. She said including gender-neutral bathrooms is the first step.

The students also shared that survey results show there are students in the district who have never heard or don’t fully understand LGBTQ terms, such as transgender (5.3%) and nonbinary (23%). The alliance believes adding gender-neutral bathrooms will help create new learning opportunities.

Another question in the survey asked which bathrooms students would use if a gender-neutral option was offered, and 7.1% of respondents said they would use only the gender-neutral bathrooms.

The students of the Summit Equity Alliance said they hope to see a gender-neutral bathroom option expanded across the district and not just at the high school.

Overall, the school board members praised the students from the alliance for speaking on behalf of their community and applauded the research they put into their presentation.

Summit High School Principal Tim Ridder said that while the staff bathrooms have yet to be unlocked, he is working with staff and the Student Equity Alliance on next steps. He said he is proud of the work the students have done to make this a reality.

“We are a school in which we need to make sure that each of our students has a comfort level in order to be able to maximize their education,” Ridder said. “That includes making sure that each student has the facilities in which they feel comfortable using the restroom.”

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