US elementary school does away with gendered bathrooms

Los Angeles (AFP) - A California elementary school has become one of the first in the country to phase out gendered bathrooms, a move in line with a national trend to recognize the needs of transgender people.

The principal at Miraloma Elementary School in San Francisco said the decision to do away with separate bathrooms for boys and girls was in part to acknowledge about eight gender non-conforming students.

"Not only do we want all of our students to feel safe... we want them to understand systematic equality for everyone," Sam Bass said in a statement. "We are teaching them a valuable lesson."

The move comes as schools and universities across the country grapple with how to deal with transgender students, an issue recently cast into the spotlight by Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian and reality TV star formerly known as Bruce Jenner.

Though many schools in the United States have made gender-neutral bathrooms available, few have done away with separate facilities for boys and girls and the subject remains controversial.

About 150 students walked out of class in a small Missouri town this week to protest a transgender teen using the girls' restrooms and locker rooms.

Several members of the school board in Hillsboro, where the school is located, also resigned after the controversy erupted, with one citing philosophical differences.

Bass, the principal at Miraloma, said his school opted for gender-neutral bathrooms rather than separate facilities because it was the right thing to do.

"Some elementary schools in the district have created one space for a student on the gender spectrum to use," he said. "We are the first elementary school in the district to say that's not good enough.

"All of our students should have full, equal, safe, comfortable access to facilities."

- Measure to be phased in -

The measure concerns kindergarten and first-grade classes this year while restrooms for older children will be phased in over the next few years.

Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights, welcomed the decision.

"Gender-neutral bathrooms make a lot of sense because instead of having people wait in line, everyone feels comfortable using the bathroom," Gill told AFP. "It's increased privacy for everyone."

The mother of a first grader at Miraloma told local media that gender-neutral bathrooms would relieve anxiety for some students.

"I think most people don't think about how difficult it can be, going to the bathroom for someone like my son," a woman named Jae told the San Francisco Chronicle. She gave only her first name for her son's safety.

While her son identifies as a boy, Jae said, he likes to look like a girl and had struggled with the bathroom issue.

Now, "he can just use the restroom without thinking about it," she told the Chronicle.

California is one of the most liberal states in America regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights.

It is just one of 14 states with legislation that bans discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Human Rights Campaign.

A state law that took effect last year guarantees students can use school bathrooms and take part in sex-segregated activities that correspond with their expressed gender.

Some schools also allow students who object to using bathrooms or locker rooms with transgender classmates the option of using staff restrooms.