by Cadence Gutman, staff writer

OCTOBER 2021 – Bio-Med Science Academy installed gender neutral bathrooms following the construction and building of the school’s newest addition. In April 2015, President Barack Obama installed a gender neutral bathroom in the White House. This response was in light of 20 state level bills intended to target transgender people, being passed and enforced across the right-leaning states of the United States of America.

Gender neutral bathrooms have been a subject of debate and discussion that is part of the Transgender Rights Movement. Photo by Cadence Gutman, staff writer.

Despite this, the use of gender neutral restrooms was not widely adopted until 2016, when more than 150 universities across the country made the decision to install them. This was and still is part of the larger Transgender Rights Movement. The movement includes anyone on the transgender spectrum, which also includes gender non-conforming or nonbinary people.

Charmayne Polen, chief operating officer of grades seven through nine, was asked about the decision to install the gender neutral bathrooms in Bio-Med.

“We wanted to honor and make sure that all students were comfortable going to the bathroom,” Polen stated. According to Polen, Bio-Med was built to present itself as an innovative and welcoming school that not only embraces technology but also does its best to make every student feel supported during their educational journey.

When asked if she and those involved in the decision were afraid of the backlash, she stated, “We weren’t afraid, but we anticipated it. We knew that there would be people who were not happy about it.”

There are still gendered bathrooms in the older half of Bio-Med, which primarily houses the middle school students.

“However, we do have the [gendered] bathrooms in the original commons, so we always say if there’s someone who wants to use those bathrooms, they can go over and use those if they’re more comfortable,” Polen said.

When asked about the backlash they received from parents and students after the new addition, Polen answered that, “They didn’t quite understand the ‘why’ behind it. I think some of the people who were not for it had never seen them .… Some of them thought the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling so people could peek over …. I’ve actually taken pictures of them and sent them to people so that they understood, and that seemed to help.”

Although they had an impact on the general public, they were built for the comfort of people on the transgender spectrum, since gendered restrooms can create a hostile and uncomfortable environment for them.

The bathrooms could also present a solution to the debate surrounding trans people’s right to use the bathroom of the gender they present as. The idea of the bathrooms not having a specified gender takes away the idea that anyone is using the wrong restroom.

“I really like them. I feel less awkward when walking into the gender neutral bathrooms. I really like there’s no label put on me when I’m trying to piss,” said Freshman Finch Watters.

Watters was also asked if they would go to the other side of the school to avoid the gendered restrooms.

“Yeah probably. I don’t like them at all,” they continued. “I don’t feel comfortable going into the girls bathroom because I don’t feel like a girl. But I don’t feel comfortable going into the dudes bathroom because I don’t have dude parts.”

Around one fourth of the population suffers from gender dysphoria, which is the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be at variance with one’s birth sex. Watters stated on the topic of whether gender neutral bathrooms help with this. “Yeah, I like the thought of people not knowing whether I’m a girl or a guy. It makes me feel more comfortable.”

“It kinda feels like a safe place from my parents who are openly homophobic. I feel like I can be myself,” Watters said, commenting on what they think about the open environment regarding sexuality and gender. “I came from Streetsboro and they’re super homophobic. I like how accepting the teachers are this year. Like in sixth grade [at Streetsboro], one of the teachers found out I like other women and they kind of shunned me.”

Cisgender students also support the addition of gender-neutral restrooms.

Junior Aidan Veney said, “I love gender neutral bathrooms. They are designed with everybody in mind and don’t carry any prejudice, like how most men’s bathrooms don’t have changing tables, and take away the unnecessary burden of any potential issues that may arise if your gender identity doesn’t match your sex assigned at birth,” he said.

“I love that Bio-Med is one of the few communities, especially in northeast Ohio, where you can feel free to be who you are. I know both from experience and from stories my friends have told that bullying is a huge problem in local schools,” Veney continued, “and it’s nice that we can call ourselves a place where everyone is welcome.”

Bio-Med has established changes to make LGBTQIA+ individuals more comfortable. Erica Stewarts, a freshman who is new to Bio-Med this year, offers her opinions on this. “I’m pleased with it,” Stewards said, referring to the new bathrooms. “I think it’s as much as you can do without going overboard and keeping everybody happy.”

Coming from different backgrounds, schools and districts, can drastically change students’ opinions on different topics. Coming to Bio-Med, which is a school that tends to be open about gender and sexuality, this can be especially true.

Polen was pleased with how Bio-Med handles being open with sexuality and gender. “I’m really proud of the fact that we are a school that supports that,” she said, “because I know that some kids have experiences in other places where that support is not there. So I am very proud of that. That our school, our environment, [and] our culture. Our staff are all very open and welcoming and supportive of that.”

The installation of gender neutral bathrooms was a small step in a larger movement that not only affects the students personally but also affects their learning. Making students feel comfortable in a learning environment allows them to focus on their studies. The idea that everyone can be equal has had an impact on students of all gender identities.

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