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Beginning this fall, every building in the Philadelphia School District will have at least one single-stall, gender-neutral restroom, according to a spokesperson for the district.
The school district initially started installing gender-neutral restrooms in some buildings five years ago, when it passed a policy affirming transgender students’ rights, including their right to access a gender-neutral facility if they need to use one instead of the restroom matching their assigned sex at birth, reports Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI.
“School leaders are working to identify restrooms that will be identified as gender-neutral, offering students the opportunity to feel comfortable utilizing restrooms on school grounds,” the spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District said.
In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit challenging a lower court’s ruling upholding a suburban Philadelphia district’s restroom policy, which allows transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity. That policy also allows any student — whether transgender or cisgender — to make use of available single-stall restrooms.
In 2017, a similar lawsuit over access to restrooms was settled after a judge ruled that a suburban Pittsburgh school had discriminated against transgender students by barring them from gender-affirming facilities that they had previously been eligible to use.
By refusing to take up the appeal of the decision Philadelphia area case, the Supreme Court has effectively allowed schools across the commonwealth to craft their own transgender-friendly policies.
Celena Morrison, the director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for Philadelphia, praised the district’s plans to install gender-neutral facilities in all schools. She added that LGBTQ students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the policy.
“Beyond safety, gender-neutral bathrooms are also helpful for people with disabilities who have other gender caregivers,” she said.
The major issue will likely be the location of such facilities and whether they are easily accessible. For example, in Virginia, transgender student Gavin Grimm was barred from the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School and offered the opportunity to use a single-stall restroom. But the single-stall restroom in the nurse’s office was not easily accessible from various parts of the school, meaning Grimm either had to refrain from going to the bathroom, reduce his water intake, or risk being late to classes.
The school district then made several single-stall facilities out of renovated broom closets and offered them up for use to Grimm. But a federal judge, and later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the school district had erred when it made Grimm the only student required to use single-stall restrooms. (The Supreme Court also declined to take up an appeal of that case.)
In comparison, Philadelphia’s policy makes gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms available to any children who ask for them, regardless of gender identity, meaning the policy likely does not violate transgender students’ rights.
Maddie Luebbert, a nonbinary English teacher for the Philadelphia School District, noted that having to use a public restroom can be “anxiety-inducing” for trans and nonbinary individuals, but having a gender-neutral option might alleviate that anxiety.
“A lot of schools wait until they have a kid come out to decide these things,” noted Luebbert, “but then again, the responsibility falls on that kid to do the advocacy and ask for what they need.”
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