This essay has been published on the front page of Basic Rights Oregon
By Hank Sanders
In November, Lincoln High School became the first high school in the state and the fifth in the nation to set up multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms.
Lincoln is a public school in Portland, situated on the edge of downtown and draws from some of the region’s most affluent neighborhoods. Portland is often seen nationwide as a city with liberal views that fights for individual rights. The Portland Public School (PPS) district has the second highest percentage of LGBTQ students in the nation. These gender neutral bathrooms at Lincoln are one more example of the way our school district includes members of the LGBTQ community. Instead of forcing people who either don’t identify with any gender, or who identify with a gender different than the one they were given at birth, all students now have access to an eight-stall gender neutral bathroom with privacy stalls that are accessible to all.
Multi-stalled gender neutral bathrooms are uncommon in public education. However, with time, more and more schools plan on offering this in their schools. Gender neutral bathrooms are crucial to creating a community of acceptance and how prove important it is to respect the rights of others.
But to understand how my school became one of the first, we must take a step back.
One of my first issues of Hey Hank News was an interview with our school’s Principal, Peyton Chapman. When I wrote that issue, it was after I had spent a day shadowing her as a journalist for the Cardinal Times, the school newspaper.
It was during this time, students from the LGBTQ Straight Alliance met with her to discuss turning one of our women’s restrooms into a gender neutral bathroom. The kids presented what they wanted to do, how they would accomplish their mission, and the problems they would have to overcome to achieve their goal.
Principal Chapman outlined the obstacles, remarking that her top priority was ensuring the safety of all students. She also noted that the school district might push back on their efforts. The students were receptive, yet relentless, promising that they have what it takes to overcome obstacles, and make equality a reality.
I had the opportunity to interview the student who led this project. They asked to be kept anonymous. “Students who are transgender and don’t use the bathroom have a higher risk of suicide [and] a higher risk of anxiety,” the student said. “I thought no student should have to go through that and it is really important and relevant.”
They also added why they thought Lincoln was a perfect school to pioneer this project. “Lincoln is very progressive and we have started many new things. We are the first school in the country to offer queer studies [as a class] and we have a lot of students that want to make a change.”
The year of work that these students put into this project led to our school’s gender neutral bathroom. To both publicize and commemorate this momentous occasion, Lincoln held an assembly.
Let us remember that this event was made possible because kids banded together to create equality for others. Kids are expected to go to school and maybe do a couple extracurricular activities until they were old enough to go to college and become ‘adults.’ But occasionally, a few kids will take on a greater sense of civic virtue and improve the quality of life for others, defying the odds stacked against them and the roadblocks set up by others. And their stories are important—far more important than being the fifth school to do something.
One of my father’s coworkers once said that politics is all about the idea of “you build the parade and I will lead it.” The kids who met with the Principal battled against adults for the rights of others only to see the parade lead by people who were once indifferent to their cause.