Ore. High School Opens Unisex Bathrooms to Accommodate Transgender Students

PHOTO: Grant High School in Portland, Ore. has created unisex bathrooms for its transgender students.
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An Oregon high school installed separate unisex bathrooms, giving a "third option" to its students, including those who identify as transgender, a school official said.

Grant High School in Portland took six existing bathrooms -- four for students and two for staff -- and turned them into unisex bathrooms, outfitting them with locks on the inside and "unisex" signs on the door. No one is required to use the new bathrooms that are open to all students.

Before, students who identified as transgender and who expressed concerns about the bathrooms, could request a key to a staff bathroom, according to the student-run Grant magazine, which first reported the story.

Kristyn Westphal, who is one of Grant's two vice principals and who has been there for one year, said the project was put into motion in January, and it took about a month to assess for code and changes. The changes, which Westphal said cost "a few hundred dollars," were finished about three weeks ago.

Of the 1,600 students at the school, Westphal said the number of those who are "out" as transgender was "somewhere in the neighborhood of 10."

"Some of our gay and lesbian students said they were appreciative and more comfortable going into a different bathroom," she said.

Westphal said the idea to change the bathrooms came from the school's student-support team, which includes school counselors, the school psychologist and the vice principals.

In one of their bi-monthly meetings, Westphal said the counselors said that some LGBT students had expressed concerns about the bathrooms, saying they didn't feel comfortable or didn't feel safe using the bathrooms.

Westphal said she hadn't heard of a particular incident of a student made to feel unsafe, but she had been told about a student who was trying to avoid drinking liquid all day so he wouldn't have to use the bathroom at school.

Scott Morrison, a 17-year-old senior at Grant who was born female but now identifies as male, told The Oregonian newspaper that he would avoid drinking anything during the school day because having to chose between a boys or girls bathroom caused him anxiety and fear.

But now, he told the newspaper, he no longer has that problem, saying, "you don't even have to think about it, and that's great."

Nationwide, almost 82 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, while more than 38 percent reported being physically harassed and roughly 18 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in 2011 because of their sexual orientation, according to a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) National School Climate Survey.

LGBT students reported feeling unsafe in certain school spaces, with almost 39 percent of those students citing bathrooms specifically, the study said.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have laws and policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the legislation varies state by state.

In 2007, the Oregon state legislature passed the Oregon Equality Act, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in several "critical areas," including public school education. Under Oregon law, gender identity includes what a person believes his or her gender to be and how that person chooses to express his or her gender.

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