Montgomery Schools Consider Adding ‘All-Gender’ Bathrooms

Montgomery Schools Consider Adding ‘All-Gender’ Bathrooms

Parent advocate says design would increase privacy, prevent bullying

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Image via Flickr: Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Montgomery County Public School system is exploring establishing “all-gender” bathrooms at its schools as LGBTQ advocates push for equity for transgender and nonconforming students.

Julie Greenstein, whose 15-year-old twins who were born female and attend classes at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, urged the school board to construct only all-gender restrooms during future construction and remodeling projects at all county schools.

“That means no boys rooms, no girls rooms, just restrooms,” Greenstein said at a school board meeting last week. “This is not a new concept, we all have this in our homes and many restaurants do, too.”

Several years ago, one of her twins came out as transgender and the other identifies as non-binary, a gender identity that is not exclusively masculine or feminine, Greenstein said, but the pair feels “outed” and uncomfortable using the gender-designated bathrooms at their school.

Her child who identifies as non-binary doesn’t use the school bathrooms at all, Greenstein said, rather reducing her water intake throughout the day, a concern as track season starts.

Walter Johnson has gender-neutral bathrooms, but those are often too far out of students’ paths to use conveniently, Greenstein said. School system staff did not disclose how many of the 206-county schools have gender-neutral bathrooms.

She pointed to Kansas City, Missouri, for a solution, where some schools have installed “all-gender bathrooms.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms generally include a single stall, whereas all-gender restrooms are designed with several stalls. Greenstein said all-gender bathrooms would be beneficial for straight students who generally feel a lack of privacy or are bullied at school.

“Teens today already put so much weight on themselves and are ridden with anxiety. This is especially true for non-conforming kids, who every day worry about being bullied, or how they can get out of gym class to avoid changing in front of their peers,” Greenstein said. “You, as members of the Board of Education, can support this type of bathroom construction that will have a very important impact on these kids and let them know someone is looking out for them and someone cares. Lighten the burden of these kids.”

Students at a Canada high school in 2017 protested the implementation of such bathrooms, saying they were not comfortable sharing the space with people of the opposite gender who did not identify as LGBTQ. Students reported being late to class as they traversed the school to get to the few gender-specific bathrooms.

At-large board member Jeanette Dixon asked school staff to explore the cost of implementing such bathrooms during new construction projects and school system chief operating officer Andrew Zuckerman said data would be provided to board members in the coming weeks.

Information will include a cost analysis for retrofitting existing bathrooms with accommodations necessary to make them gender neutral, such as floor-to-ceiling stalls and common areas for sinks.

Dixon also suggested taking steps to ask school communities how they feel about schools providing gender-neutral bathrooms.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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