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All-Gender Bathrooms in Every K–12 School, Proposes California Bill — but Some Bay Area Districts Are Way Ahead

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All-Gender bathroom sign.
 (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

California public schools could soon all be equipped with an all-gender restroom for students during the school day, if a state bill introduced this month passes.

The proposal marks a stark contrast to the 16 anti-transgender bathroom bills that are currently in the legislative process in states such as Idaho and Arkansas, where lawmakers are looking to restrict students to using only the bathroom consistent with their assigned sex at birth.

Supporters of California’s bathroom bill, SB 760, say the all-student restroom option will help provide a safe and private bathroom to any kid, regardless of their gender identity. And several California school districts are already ahead of the curve.

“It was necessary that we find a legislative fix to standardize access to bathrooms across California and solve this problem not just for current students having these challenges, but future students as well,” said Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who authored the bill. “To me, this is less about education than just fair treatment and decency.”

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Starting in January 2025, the bill would require each California school district to provide at least one all-gender restroom for students to use at every school campus. The restroom would have to meet the same requirements that school bathrooms already must follow, such as regular maintenance, cleaning, stocked toilet paper and soap, and it must be unlocked and accessible during school hours.

They would also need signage indicating that the restroom is open to all students.

For many schools, it could be a matter of simply repurposing an existing single-stall restroom to fulfill the requirement.

A white man in a dark suit and green tie with round glasses and Gov. Gavin Newsom behind him.
State Senator Josh Newman on Oct. 27, 2022, in Fullerton. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

That’s the approach Oakland Unified School District took in 2017 when administrators there decided to open all-student bathrooms at every school site, after the passage of the California Equal Restroom Act. Under that law, all California businesses must make single-occupancy restrooms open to all genders and identifiable with signage.

“We converted at all K–12 school sites an existing single-stall staff bathroom to a single-stall all-gender student bathroom. It was a process of a few months. It didn't take that long once it started,” said Ilsa Bertolini, coordinator for health education at OUSD.

Prior to the bathroom update, nonbinary students would have to visit the office or ask for a key to a staff bathroom, a common story at many schools that lack inclusive bathroom access.

Many LGBTQ advocates say it’s an unnecessary hurdle that can turn an everyday need — going to the bathroom — into a traumatizing experience.

“We didn't want to have that barrier, and it's a privacy issue,” Bertolini said.

About 43% of transgender and nonbinary students said they are never allowed to use a bathroom, or locker room, that matches their gender identity (PDF), according to a 2018 study from the Human Rights Campaign. Of that group, more than half of students said they don’t feel safe using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and 12% were told by teachers or administrators not to.

“We unfortunately have heard really terrible reports from students who do not feel comfortable using the restroom at school. They will deny themselves food or water, skip school to use the bathroom at home or leave the school campus. And those are not the outcomes we want,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel with the Human Rights Campaign. “We want young folks to be able to focus on their education without being hungry, thirsty or riddled with anxiety about what will happen when they use the restroom.”

Nearly 50% of LGBTQ youth in California reported they have been teased or bullied because of their actual or perceived gender identity or sexuality, according to the 2018 HRC report.

Avoiding the restroom can lead to a variety of issues, such as physical pain or infection, accidents, or kids choosing to stay home from school or leave campus to go to the bathroom.

Kena Hazelwood remembers being a queer student in San Francisco Unified School District before there was an effort to provide more inclusive restrooms and other support programs for LGBTQ students.

“When I was a queer student in SFUSD, having a space to go to and explore questions would have been crucial. But those didn’t exist when I was in school,” said Hazelwood, who now leads LGBTQ student services for the district. “We are now creating spaces that resonate for more students. We aren’t telling kids to choose an identity, we are telling them these are spaces where you can feel safe and seen.”

Today, 1 in 5 students in the district identifies as LGBTQ, according to Hazelwood, including about 2% who identify as nonbinary or transgender at the high school level. Nearly 77% of all LGBTQ students in the district also identify as people of color.

In SFUSD, district leaders began a similar effort to open at least one single-stall all-gender bathroom at each school site back in 2016. But it’s taken some time, and money, to implement the change across the entire district.

The bill, which is subject to change as it moves through the lawmaking process, states that reimbursement for any construction costs necessary to meet the mandate would be provided by the state.

“For our older schools, it might mean changing the locking mechanism so students don’t have to ask for keys. Or the height of the stall to make sure it’s private for anybody,” said Hazelwood. “This legislation has potential to provide funding. That’s been a barrier to enacting this across all our schools as quickly as we like. If the funding is attached, we can live up to this promise.”

Addressing students’ toilet needs is not just about changing locks and signs, Hazelwood said, but making sure students and staff alike understand why different options exist.

“It’s easy to focus on the physical nature of these restrooms, but that’s only part of it. We have to change our community and culture so people know why it’s important,” Hazelwood said.

In Oakland Unified, leaders of school sites determined which restrooms would be repurposed for students. Then, Bertolini helped train custodial and grounds staff on why the restroom was changing.

“We spent two hours with small groups of custodians to talk about how we support our LGBTQ students and different identities students have, including nonbinary, which is a gender option in California and public school districts when you register students,” Bertolini said. “So, we were not providing a bathroom for our nonbinary students, and we are now.”

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