High school opens all-gender restrooms

Vashon High School made national headlines last week when school district leaders announced students would be welcomed back from the December break with a newly converted set of all-gender restrooms.

According to a press release provided by the Vashon Island School District, VHS is among the first public schools in the country to convert a set of its previously gendered restrooms to all-gender.

As previously reported, the effort to bring the conversion to fruition was spearheaded by members of VHS’ Queer Spectrum Alliance (QSA), who made a proposal to the school board last April. The students were asked to research best practices for supporting such a transition, and after the students reported back in June, the school board voted to move ahead with the proposal — allocating $25,000 for the project and setting a timeline for it in September.

The high school previously had one gender-neutral restroom; however, after the single-stall facility was vandalized a couple of years ago, it was locked, requiring students to obtain a key if they wanted to use it. In their initial proposal to the school board, QSA members stated that the act of obtaining the key “felt very ‘othering,’” and that students felt like they had to “out” themselves to utilize the restroom under those circumstances. Given that gender-segregated bathrooms are often spaces where transgender and gender non-conforming students encounter bullying and harassment, Leo MacLeod, co-president of the VHS QSA, had this to say: “It’s the question of ‘which place am I least likely to be harassed today?’… ‘Where will I not be hurt for who I am?’”

In a story reported by The Beachcomber last April, VHS Principal Danny Rock said he understood that restroom access via key was a barrier, and he felt that conversion of an existing restroom with multiple stalls would be a much more sensible way to provide access.

Specifics of the conversion include the formerly women’s and men’s restrooms, located on the second floor, have been fitted with new, increased-privacy stalls, and urinals in the men’s room have been replaced with a stall. Signage has also been changed to “All Gender Restroom.”

Rock has expressed support for this effort and its benefit for students who will use the new facilities.

“Making bathrooms all-gender is the safest and clearest way to prevent students from having to explain or justify their bathroom use to anyone else,” Rock said. “That’s something none of us should ever have to endure.”

Preparation for the change was offered to both parents and students last month in the form of student-led meetings, supported by nationally known gender diversity expert Aidan Key. Superintendant Michael Soltman said that so far the district has received only positive feedback.

“I continue to be amazed and incredibly proud of our students and school board as we are presented with opportunities to be led by our students into innovations and changes that build a culture of compassion and caring,” he said.

The school held a school-wide assembly on Jan. 2 to officially open the new bathrooms.

This story has been picked up by many TV, print and web media outlets locally, as well as nation-wide, with coverage coming from the states of Oregon, Idaho, Indiana, Texas, Connecticut, New York, California and Missouri.