By Natalie Adams
Arundel’s first all-gender bathroom was opened on Friday, December 14th, but closed later that day due to misuse. Almost two months later, the bathroom was reopened on Monday, February 4th, albeit in a new location.
The process for opening the all-gender bathroom began late last school year. Arundel’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) created a proposition, collected signatures in support, and proposed the idea to Principal Davenport at the beginning of the current school year.
Brendon Bailey, the President of GSA, explained that Davenport was very supportive of the idea and completely on board. He stated, “it was a relief to know that Ms. Davenport had our backs,” and the club felt, “we finally achieved something.”
However, that feeling was short lived when the bathroom closed about an hour and a half after it opened. Bailey described it as, “a punch in the stomach,” and like taking “one step forward, two steps back.”
There were a few unforeseen issues with the bathroom, such as its location, the multiple stalls, and lack of communication with students and teachers.
The original bathroom replaced the girl’s room at the end of upstairs F-hall, which was rather secluded, since it is around the corner from classrooms and next to an unfrequented stairwell. It also has multiple stalls, which led to students using it as a hang-out instead of a bathroom.
The opening of the bathroom was unannounced to teachers and students outside of GSA. This led to confusion over the bathroom and students wandering in just to check it out.
Bailey explained that the GSA decided not to announce the opening of the bathroom to the entire school because they feared it would invite unwanted attention to students using it. Ms. Funk, an advisor for the GSA also stated that the club and Davenport agreed a, “reallocation of school function is not really anything that [we] need to let everybody know about.”
Instead, the GSA held an opening ceremony during Pride Period the day it opened. At this time, a custodian took down the sign marking it as a girl’s restroom and replaced it with a sign that read “All Gender Bathroom.”
Following the bathroom’s closure, the school and GSA faced backlash. Bailey explained there were complaints from students, parents, and teachers, who did not understand the importance of the bathroom and thought it was “perverted” and “disgusting.”
Bailey stated, “it was meant to be for safety,” and that some students at Arundel either would not go to the bathroom at all during school, or would “go to some bathroom where they don’t feel like they belong.” He gave an example of a transgender male who would be unwelcome in the boy’s room because he is viewed as female by boys, but also unwelcome in the girl’s room because he is viewed as male by girls.
Bailey also explained that transgender students were permitted to use the single-stall restrooms in the main office, but students who were non binary or questioning did not have this privilege.
With the backlash, there has also been support. Bailey stated that since the closing of the bathroom, more and more allies have stepped forward to say that they understand and support the club, its members, and the bathroom.
In order to explain the importance of the bathroom to students and teachers alike, Funk and Ms. Patel, another GSA advisor, devised an advisory lesson that was taught on Monday, February 4th. A TED Talk video was shown that explained what it was like to not conform to one gender and feel uncomfortable using public restrooms. After the video, each class had a Community Circle to discuss specific questions provided in the lesson.
That same day, the all-gender bathroom was reopened, replacing one of the single-stall, staff bathrooms at the intersection of upstairs E-hall and F-hall, by the elevator.
A sign was hung on the door that reads “Gender Neutral” in large print and “anyone can use this restroom, regardless of gender identity or expression,” underneath it. At the top, there is also a symbol for a woman, man, handicap, and non conforming person.
The all-gender bathroom is open to all students, faculty, and staff as a safe place to use the restroom. Funk recapitulated the bathroom’s purpose and importance by explaining, “Arundel is about diversity; it’s about accepting all students and welcoming all students. We wanted everybody to feel welcome and safe.”