Staples’ unisex restrooms promote tolerance
WESTPORT— Some Staples High School students — including freshman Sky Beck, who identifies as gender neutral — are appalled at President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind federal protections that allowed transgender students to use restrooms matching their gender identities.
“No one in their right mind should deny someone their right,” Beck said. “It’s a human rights violation.”
The move ended former President Barack Obama’s directive urging public schools to include transgender students as a protected class under Title IX, which outlaws sexual discrimination. Trump has relegated the matter to individual states and school districts.
“I feel that it was an act to increase his popularity among his base,” said Xi Jones, a senior who also identifies as gender neutral. “(Trump) ran on a campaign of hate.”
“I know that at the end of the day I’m the person who I am. Nobody has a say in what I do,” Jones added.
On Feb. 23, the day after Trump’s decision to rescind transgender protections, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order protecting transgender students in state schools and assured residents that Connecticut will remain committed to defending the rights of all students.
Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer and Staples Principal James D’Amico have both expressed their support in protecting the rights of all students.
Last summer, Staples converted three staff restrooms into single-occupant unisex bathrooms that can be accessed by all students after obtaining a key. Even after Trump’s decision, those continue to remain available and students at Staples are free to use any restroom they identify with, according to D’Amico.
While these local protections are important, members of the Staples High School Gender Sexualities Alliance (GSA) — a group that meets to create safe environments in school, opposes LGBTQ discrimination and seeks to educate the school community on such issues — were outspoken in their opposition to Trump’s decision.
“You should be able to go to the bathroom that you feel you should go to,” said Quinntin Bravo, a sophomore.
Beck said the issue was a matter of comfort and safety, “I think it’s unfair to students like me because we just need to go to the bathroom. It makes us feel uncomfortable if we have to go into a bathroom that we don’t identify with because there’s also the danger of getting hurt by people who are very against it.”
Transgender students are among the most vulnerable to attack in society, especially in school, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Based on a survey of nearly 28,000 transgender adults conducted by the nonprofit in 2015, the “majority of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender while in school (K-12) experienced some form of mistreatment.”
Some 54 percent of the respondents cited verbal harassment, 24 percent were physically attacked and 13 percent were sexually assaulted. In addition, 17 percent left school because of how poorly they were treated.
Furthermore, in the year leading up to the survey, seven percent of respondents attempted suicide, a figure that is almost 12 times the suicide rate for the overall U.S. population.
“These kids are our most vulnerable. The most vulnerable. We know about suicide rates in the gay community. They are comparable, if not worse, than those in the trans community,” said Chris Fray, the GSA faculty adviser.
When Fray started at Staples in 1996, LGBTQ students all over the country were “really closeted,” he recalled. “Very few, if any kids were out. They didn’t tell their parents about it. If they knew, parents would forbid them from coming to our meetings.”
Under Obama, Fray said, the LGBTQ community was lucky to have a “progressive president who would hear the concerns and even be proactive about things.” He added that he was discouraged to see Trump rescind the direction.
Still, Staples students have found solace in how their school has addressed the bathroom issue.
“It makes me feel comfortable. They’re very clean and quiet. It’s just a bathroom,” Beck said.
Bravo said he appreciated the unisex bathrooms and feels that “Staples is definitely progressive in situations involving this.”
Nevertheless, the sophomore said there is still room for improvement.
“I’m pretty sure there’s less unisex bathrooms than there are normal bathrooms. It’s like you have to scope one out to find it so that’s pretty tedious,” Bravo said.