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Redwood Bark

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Advocating for non-binary inclusion in high school restrooms

Illustration by Cora Champommier

 

Non-binary students seek recognition every day, in every space they occupy. The “women” and “men” signs on public restrooms force people to conform to a limited selection, which believe it or not, can sometimes result in dangerous outcomes. One bathroom at a time, the administration can solve this issue and create a safe space for anyone and everyone. Adolescence is a time of figuring out who you are, and high school is a never-ending playground for the exploration of identity. Freshmen entering the corridors of the Redwood campus expect a welcoming space for all but students may not feel as accepted as they should in a school setting. 

Nex Benedict was a 16-year-old student living in Oklahoma. He identified as transmasculine but was using the women’s bathroom on February 7th at Owasso High School. He was minding his own business when three girls physically assaulted and injured him so badly that he had to be taken to the hospital. The day after the incident, Benedict collapsed at home and was later pronounced dead. The motivation for Benedict’s beating and eventually ruled murder is clear: his open identity as part of the LGBTQ community. He didn’t fit their box of what they considered “normal” and as a result, violence ensued. Nicole Graydon, a physical education teacher at Redwood, talked about how it made her sad to see this happen at a high school and how anyone should be able to use the bathroom. Within the story, Graydon described how the school didn’t call 911 right away. 

“It’s just completely ridiculous that they didn’t follow protocol and that they didn’t care for the student enough. The stuff I read almost sounded like they were blaming the kid. Like you were there. You caused this drama with your pure existence.” Graydon said. 

Even the main officer on the case added that it would be a shame for any of the female students to have to deal with a criminal situation for “something so minuscule,” though Benedict had disclosed that he had experienced bullying for a year prior to this attack. Graydon described how she saw the article and decided to re-post it on the social media app Instagram. 

“I thought it was important to repost as a teacher and also as a human to show support for our non-binary and transgender humans in the world,” said Graydon.

This re-post sparked a conversation between her and her students. Instagram is a platform where Graydon allows students to follow her, and she wanted to use the platform as a way to spread awareness on these issues. Graydon said that a lot of kids brought it up to her. She had numerous conversations with students in the LGBTQ+ community and allies of the community about the importance of safety in schools. Especially when it comes to something as vulnerable as going to the bathroom.  

Here at Redwood, there are two gender-neutral bathrooms in the small gym, one by the drama building and one in the Wellness Center. The designated non-binary bathrooms for changing in PE are the ones in the small gym. Over the 2023 summer, the district added nine miniature lockers that are unable to fit a normal-sized backpack. This has created problems in the physical education [P.E.] program.

“We have more than nine kids who need that facility, [and with only nine lockers] they can’t each have their own, they can only use it for the class period so they’re stuck carrying around their P.E. clothes all day,” Graydon said. 

There has been an ongoing battle on how to obtain an easier bathroom situation for these students. There have been many requests for a trailer or use of the closet at the front of the big gym, but each time they were deemed to not be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. 

The school Maintenance team deemed the space not sufficient, but Graydon pushed for reconsideration given the circumstances. 

“I was like, ‘I’m well aware it’s not good enough but it’s better than what we have.’ ” Graydon said. 

The reality is that these changing facilities fall far short of satisfactory, and are evolving into areas of harassment. Spencer DeWoody, the head of the Wellness department, mentioned that he was worried about the safety of students in certain bathrooms. 

”I’ve heard from a lot of LGBTQ+ folks that the [Wellness] bathroom feels the safest. So I’m a little wary about some of the other places. I’ve heard in other bathrooms that people make comments or bang on the door,” DeWoody said. 

He also describes how some kids walk all the way to the Wellness bathroom to change for P.E. For example, a transgender student named Kage Watson describes how he has to do that exact walk and always finds himself late for class. 

“If you’re in the women’s locker room, then you feel like a woman. If you’re in the men’s room it’s unsafe. So you have to always pick and choose,” Watson said. 

Because of this, Watson goes to Wellness to change. There is also the problem that most of the non-binary bathrooms are often locked so students can’t utilize the space. Watson says that due to this he has to go from the theater wing all the way to Wellness just to relieve himself. For this reason, Watson says that he and a lot of the other LGBTQ+ students would benefit from a bathroom in the art building or the 700s. In the case of changing clothes, there needs to be a separate gender-neutral space with changing stalls to promote comfortability. Although there are consequences for bullying set in place, such as getting locker privileges revoked, the problem is how do students who experience this harassment deal with it mentally?

The Spahr Center in San Rafael was a source the Wellness Center used to help students. They hosted a weekly meeting called Q Group, which was a place for LGBTQ+ students to come during SMART on Fridays and talk about their experiences at Redwood or in life in general. Unfortunately, the Spahr Centers programs were indefinitely suspended as of February 16 due to ongoing financial difficulties. All staff were laid off and the clinic was closed. This was a huge loss for the LGBTQ+ community. Fortunately, one of the previous staff members is remaining and continues to work with Redwood, so the LGBTQ+ community will have that space and service for the remainder of this year but likely not in the years to come. According to Watson, he felt very safe in counseling and Wellness due to everyone being extremely accepting. 

“[I felt safe] especially with Wellness’s once-a-month Clinic [Q Group]. That’s really helpful because they all know about LGBTQ+ issues and it’s very accepting there. It’s a place where students have this community of people who understand some of the challenges they face with people that they can relate to,” Watson said. 

Now that Q Group will be gone next year, Redwood more than ever must step up and make a change. Other schools in the Tam District such as Tam High School have five non-binary bathrooms, that is one more than Redwood currently has. The district needs to follow the example Tam has set considering that so many students are part of the LGBTQ+ community. One more bathroom isn’t enough but it is a start. Watson explains how not having a safe space can contribute to the negative encounters and remarks he already receives from students day to day.

“Especially being trans there’s always people asking intrusive questions. People will be like ‘Well what were you born as?’ Or ‘What’s your birth name?’, questions that you would never ask a cis (cisgender) person,” Watson said. 

Without LGBTQ+-friendly environments in high schools, school becomes a place that facilitates bullying and violence. The ignorance and untimely response to the problem is also unacceptable. 

People are very willing to help when I first start pushing, and then we run into problems and it’s like ‘oop we can’t do it’,” Graydon said.

Adding more bathrooms to the Redwood campus will be a significant step towards creating a more inclusive and safe learning environment for all students. In addition, Redwood can set an example for others and promote the need for non-binary bathrooms. 

If you or someone you know have ever experienced or witnessed bullying, there are ways to get help. One example is the anonymous tip line at Redwood put in place for situations exactly like this. There are QR codes scattered around campus that will lead you there. This is a perfect example of a resource needed to keep students safe, but Redwood still has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ+ support. The problem with the absence of enough non-binary bathrooms is something Redwood needs to consider a priority. Unsafety in schools, especially in a space that is so vulnerable, is unacceptable and there needs to be a change in how it is addressed.

Link to anonymous sexual harassment hotline

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About the Contributors
Brooklyn Saputo
Brooklyn Saputo is a sophomore at Redwood High School and is in non fiction class studying to be part of The Redwood Bark. She enjoys cheerleading and the arts such as musical theatre. 
Storey Gerber is a sophomore at redwood high school and is a cub reporter. She loves spending time with her friends and family, playing tennis, and going to the beach.