(Originally Published on OregonLive)
Each middle and high school in the Tigard-Tualatin School District will have one unisex bathroom this fall, in response to concerns from transgender students.
The move, the first of its kind in Washington County, involves few changes. An existing single-stall restroom, likely a staff one, will be designated as gender neutral and made available to all students at each school.
The move was prompted by Portland Public Schools, where Grant High School made national headlines earlier this year after designating six bathrooms as gender neutral.
Transgender students already are permitted to use whichever restroom they prefer or staff restrooms, said Tigard-Tualatin spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon. Following a complaint at both Tigard and Tualatin high schools, the district decided to open gender-neutral bathrooms to provide another option for students who may not feel comfortable using shared bathrooms.
Other students who might use gender neutral bathrooms include shy students or students with medical conditions, such as colostomy bags, that may embarrass them.
Beginning this fall, locker rooms also will include private and curtained areas at the five schools, which include Fowler, Hazelbrook and Twality middle schools.
Nationally, nearly nine in 10 transgender students reported verbal harassment because of their gender expression, according to a 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network report.
“A unisex bathroom allows transgender students a place to use without their gender identity becoming an issue, or being scrutinized by peers,” Nancy Hungerford, an attorney for the district, wrote in a memo. “Additionally, it minimizes the potential for complaints or lawsuits from non-transgender students.”
Transgender students will not be required to use unisex bathrooms. Students elsewhere in the United States have pushed to use the same bathrooms as their peers. Tigard-Tualatin’s policy gives options for privacy and inclusion.
But one local transgender group says the district doesn’t go far enough by focusing on secondary schools.
“Gender nonconformity isn’t just something that happens to students when they get to late middle school or high school,” said Jenn Burleton, executive director of TransActive, an organization that works with more than 70 Portland-area children below the age of 10.
Last month, Colorado officials ruled a school district discriminated against a six-year-old transgender girl by prohibiting her from using the girl’s restroom.
Stark Haydon said bathroom issues have not arisen in the district’s 10 elementary schools, but the district may eventually designate unisex bathrooms there, too.
While many schools in the Portland area grapple with bathroom issues for transgender students, it’s unusual for the issue to reach the district level. Tigard-Tualatin updated its student rights policy to commit to providing facilities based on equality for all students.
Elsewhere in Washington County, Forest Grove, Sherwood, Beaverton and Hillsboro schools make accommodations for students without specific gender-neutral bathrooms.
The restroom question goes beyond schools. Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen signed an order last month requiring new buildings to have gender-neutral, single-occupancy bathrooms.