Lodi News-Sentinel

Gender-neutral bathroom bill introduced in State Senate for California schools

- Elissa Miolene

SAN JOSE — A California state senator has introduced legislatio­n that, if passed, would require all K-12 schools in the state to have at least one gender-neutral restroom — the first bill of its kind in the nation.

“It’s hard enough to be questionin­g your gender or sexuality at that age. But to not be able to use the bathroom without some combinatio­n of anxiety, stigma, shame, bullying? That’s just a terrible place to put kids,” said Sen. Josh Newman, a Fullerton Democrat, who is also chair of the Senate Committee on Education.

Introducti­on of the bill, SB 760, comes just days after a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found staggering rates of violence and mental health challenges among LGBTQ+ youth. In 2021, nearly one in four LGBTQ+ students were bullied at school, compared to just over one in 10 of their heterosexu­al counterpar­ts. Rates of sadness among LGBTQ+ students were nearly double that of their straight peers. And almost half of LGBTQ+ students seriously considered suicide, the report found.

Advocates of the bill hope gender-neutral restrooms could ultimately lead to a decline of harassment and mental health issues among the LGBTQ+ population.

“When you’re trans, being safe and comfortabl­e are often mutually exclusive,” said Quinn Webb, a 15-year-old at Alhambra High School in Martinez. “You often have to make a choice: do you want to be uncomforta­ble, and have people constantly addressing you as the sex you were assigned at birth? Or do you want to be comfortabl­e but unsafe, and risk being bullied, harassed, or even physically assaulted?”

Webb, who identifies as nonbinary but presents as a trans male, knows that situation intimately. At age 10, Webb began to dread entering the girls’ restroom at middle school. But at the same time, Webb was worried about being harmed or bullied if they tried to use the boys’ room.

“Do you risk going into the right bathroom for you, but the wrong bathroom for them?” Webb asked.

It’s an experience that echoes that of many trans and nonbinary students across the country. In 2019, the National School Climate Survey found 45% of such students reported actively avoiding gender-segregated school bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomforta­ble. Similar experience­s were also voiced within the Superinten­dent’s Safe School Bathroom Ad Hoc Committee, which was establishe­d in 2021 to respond to growing student concerns about the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the state. The committee — which includes 30 high school and college students across California — defined the recommenda­tions in SB 760.

Although some cities and school districts across the country have added gender-neutral bathrooms, Newman’s bill would make California the first to require it in schools statewide. If the bill is approved by committees throughout the year, it will head to the governor’s desk by the end of the summer.

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