Students, QSA campaign for gender neutral restrooms

The Uvalde shooting earlier in the year has cast a long shadow over the educational landscape of America, with many districts, PfISD included, instituting a number of safety changes in response to the event. Now, it's the dawn of a new academic year, and school social worker Lori Carl has been presented with a dilemma.

In previous years, students who requested them—predominantly transgender and nonbinary—were permitted to have a key to access staff restrooms. As a result of new district wide safety changes, however, the school has now been instructed to revoke access to those keys. Carl has been tasked with devising a solution for the concerns of primarily the transgender and nonbinary students who no longer have access to private restrooms on campus.

"I have a compassion for the people that need those bathrooms," Carl said. "Maybe I'm more in tune with the reason why it's important. I want people to feel comfortable going to the bathroom."

She has spent the previous few weeks informing students with keys of the change, and reaching out to the student body to determine a plan.

“Our policy has always been: go to the bathroom that you're most comfortable going to," Carl said. "But now, I think it's gone to the next level. [The Queer-Straight Alliance] (QSA) want a designated bathroom, and it's the students that want that. It's nobody else. So, that's what we're trying to listen to, because we want people to feel comfortable."

While Carl acknowledges they are unable to construct new restrooms, there are options to modify the existing structure, and she says she has been consulting with officers of the QSA in order to arrive at a decision. This year, the QSA's program of action has been campaigning for the installation of gender neutral restrooms.

"As far as what [QSA President Kaitlyn Nash] and I were talking about, we were talking about possibly finding a bathroom that we could turn into a neutral bathroom," Carl said. "We're looking at one of the bathrooms in the library."

Carl emphasizes her happiness with the cooperation of the administration in finding a solution, in particular the principal, Michael Grebb.

"Mr. Grebb is so awesome," Carl said. "He's like, 'let's start the conversation, let's problem solve. Let's figure out how we can make this work.'"

Grebb made the decision to request Carl be the one to act as a sounding board for the proposal of gender neutral restrooms.

“I direct people to the social worker, Ms. Carl, because she works with different students depending on their situation," Grebb said. "She has a lot better insight, and probably the most experience on campus. That’s why I trust her with what she thinks is best for each individual student.”

While it has created the need for an administrative solution, Grebb explains there is a rationale underlying the district decision.

"A concern was that you can actually lock yourself in the bathroom," Grebb said. "I know that’s a huge safety concern because of self harm, or if someone has a seizure and passes out, we might not be able to get into the area where we need to help somebody.”

The decision has been met with some criticism, however. For the former treasurer of the QSA, senior Jewel Spivey-Sorrells, the withdrawal of staff restroom keys represents a continued failure to accommodate transgender students.

"The district didn't really think of the effect that the removal of bathrooms would have on transgender students when making the decision,” Spivey-Sorrells said. "I believe it’s like this because when people advocate, they’re overlooked or unheard, so nothing is done."

Spivey-Sorrells herself has encountered homophobic and transphobic prejudice that, in her opinion, is evidence of the importance of gender neutral restrooms.

“At this school, I've witnessed bullying of students a part of the LGBT community several times," Spivey-Sorrells said. "One time I can recall was when a trans woman at our school was being harassed by a group of sophomore boys, being called names for how she was dressed.”

Spivey-Sorrells believes gender neutral restrooms are necessary in order to ensure the safety of students.

"I still believe there is a need for trans or all gender bathrooms," Spivey-Sorrells said. "I definitely see benefits to students who have been bullied while trying to use the restroom and feeling unsafe or hold their pee because they can’t use it in peace.”

Additionally, she believes supplementary safety measures should be taken, not stopping at just restrooms.

“To increase safety, I definitely believe that educating everyone on certain topics, like in QSA, is the best way," Spivey-Sorrells said. "I know half the stuff I've learned about my own community came from QSA and helped me change my view on things I never would’ve thought about before. I believe that’s possible for other students as well.”

Grebb emphasizes the importance of restroom safety for everyone.

“I just think we need to figure out a plan to help everyone feel safe and secure when they use the restroom," Grebb said. "That’s how I feel about it. No matter who you are, it’s a private situation, so I want people to feel comfortable wherever they are.”