Every Philadelphia School District building is required to have at least one single-stall gender neutral bathroom, a rule beginning in the 2021-2022 school year.
These new bathrooms are a small, yet long-awaited move towards creating a safer environment for trans and non-binary students. The School District started providing a few gender-neutral bathrooms in some schools across the city when Policy 252 (which asserted the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students) was passed in 2016.
In an effort to “ensure safety, equity, and justice for all students regardless of gender identity or gender expression,'' the district's policy also includes the right for students to be included in the group that corresponds to their gender identity, be addressed with any name or pronouns, and for schools in the district to use gender-neutral language when possible.
“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," a statement from the school district read. Monica Lewis, Deputy Chief of Communications and Spokesperson for the district, stated that they are “committed to creating an inclusive culture where all students feel valued and know they are in a safe and nurturing learning environment.
Students in the district are glad to see gender-neutral bathrooms in schools. Kezia Varghese, a sophomore at Northeast High School, said in an interview, “I definitely think we should have more of these bathrooms. If you don't feel welcomed anywhere else, I feel like school is somewhere where you should definitely feel welcomed, so it's important to be comfortable at school.''
Varghese added that there could be a downside to gender-neutral bathrooms. “If people feel comfortable having gender-neutral bathrooms, we should definitely have it. But also, I feel like people would take advantage of it. Bullying is obviously something that is present in schools, so I feel like that would be a place that could be targeted.''
Statistics show that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be subjected to bullying in school. 2019 data from The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) show that 29% of gay or lesbian students and 31% of bisexual students have been bullied in school, compared to 17% of straight students. 43% of transgender students have been bullied in school, compared to 18% of cisgender students.
In spite of the school district´s strives to make schools more welcoming for trans and non-binary students, Varghese agreed that the district could be doing more: “I definitely think they [the district] are making an effort, but I think something that they should do is teach, especially younger students, about the LGBTQ community to prevent bullying.''
The district also announced new programs for LGBTQIA+ students such as ClubPRIDE. ClubPRIDE gives students access to LGBTQIA+ content and conversations; as well as information and resources on the LGBTQIA+ community.
The school district is making good strides towards supporting LGBTQ+ students with the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, but this should only be the beginning of building a welcoming community for everybody.