Mandating Restrooms

The Michigan Board of Education

has proposed rules to address gender identification. I am in agreement with the vast majority of that document but this section is causing controversy…  My concern is that this will detract from the positive aspects of the proposal by creating a ‘reason’ to oppose it that affects all our students and parents in the 97th District.

Students should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Alternative and non-stigmatizing options, such as an all-gender or single- user restroom (e.g., staff bathroom or nurse’s office), should be made available to students who request them, but not presented as the only option. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of underlying reasons, has the right to access a single-user restroom.

ALL students are entitled to a school experience free of bullying, and based on respect. It is a fact of life that gender identity (how an individual identifies themselves by gender) is not always the same as their biological gender. This is not subjective to our approval or disapproval, it is simply human nature, our only obligation is to treat everyone with respect as human beings.

As for bathroom facilities, I do disagree with a part of their recommendations. I believe that group bathrooms in schools should be segregated by biological gender (and the same with group locker facilities). I do believe that individual students with contrasting gender identities can and should be offered individual use facilities. This is not to stigmatize or isolate, but to avoid putting undue stress on students and their parents.

The problem with mandating bathroom choices for contrasting gender identities is that it goes beyond simply self declaring a gender identity.  As adults, I am sure we unknowingly have shared bathroom facilities with people identifying with our genders despite what their biological gender would suggest.  Appropriate behavior in bathrooms is a society norm and in general our toilet habits are private.  There is a degree of anonymity in public restrooms as adults.

The situation in Middle and High School is different, especially in the small towns that make up much of Michigan, including the 97th District.  There is much less anonymity in a local school when compared to a college, movie theater or sports stadium- the adult world in general.  I understand a 15 year old girl using the restroom at school may not be comfortable with ‘Emily’ in the next stall, since she went to elementary school with her when she was ‘Billy’.

Teenagers are struggling with their new found sexuality, and in many cases have grown up with the same classmates.  They have a history together, and throwing the restroom/locker issue into the mix is asking a bit much of our public school students at this age.  The proper approach is to teach respect, to have policies in place to assure a safe learning environment, and to promote understanding in as comfortable setting as is possible.

But respect and comfort work both ways.  We need to respect gender identity issues, but also make sure using the facilities between classes is not a stressful experience.  Rather than losing a very compassionate and appropriate policy promoting respect, we should allow accommodations by providing single use facilities to address gender identity.

For a full copy of the proposed guidelines, click this link.

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