Can Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Hurt Transgender People?

Many LGBT activists are big advocates for gender-neutral bathrooms. They typically help make transgender and gender-nonconforming people more comfortable using the bathroom, and eliminate potentially awkward situations. But sometimes, can gender-neutral bathrooms actually hurt transgender people instead of helping them?

According to one middle school student, the answer is yes. A sixth grade male-to-female transgender student at Orono Middle School in Maine was forced to use a gender-neutral bathroom instead of the girls’ bathroom at school. According to the school, the district “trained the staff, educated students, gave the transgender student her own bathroom and locker, and met with her parents.” It sounds like the school did a lot to try to make the transgender student happy.

So what went wrong? The student, forced by school administrators to use her own separate bathroom, was picked on by her peers. According to the Maine Human Rights Commission, these actions led to the student’s anxiety and depression.

The transgender student at the center of this story wanted to fit in with her classmates and use the same bathroom as all the other girls. Indeed, while making more gender-neutral bathrooms available can help many transgender people, a transgender person should still be allowed to use the bathroom based on their gender. Restricting bathroom use to a particular bathroom is insulting to transgender people, and denies them the right to choose their own identity.

It’s also worth noting that not only should schools allow transgender people to choose the bathroom that makes them most comfortable, but schools should proactively address bullying and harassment against transgender students. If the student was being picked on by her peers, as the Maine Human Rights Commission found, then Orono Middle School clearly didn’t do a good enough job of educating its students and staff. As a result, the school now faces a lawsuit, which could have easily been prevented.

Photo credit: Gregg O’Connell