There is a lot to do on the road to fairness and dignity for transgender Americans, but I am very pleased to report on an important success that I, in partnership with the ACLU, was able to achieve in Illinois this week – ensuring access to gender-appropriate locker rooms and restrooms for students in my school.
This Monday, the school board for the Williamsville-Sherman school district approved an agreement allowing transgender students to use the school restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth. The agreement resulted from a charge of discrimination I filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) against my school. I am especially pleased that the administrators and board of my school reached an agreement to help not just myself, but the students that will come after me as well.
Restroom usage by students and others who are transgender has been widely talked about in Illinois and across the nation recently. Let me tell you why this issue is important to me.
I struggled for a long time with the fact that I had been assigned female at birth, even though I knew deep down that I was a boy. At the end of my freshman year in high school, I met another transgender student, and everything that I had been feeling suddenly made sense. I understood that I could be male, even though my sex assigned to me at birth was female. Seeing myself as male felt right, and I became confident as a man.
When I came “out” to the superintendent and principal in my school, some things went well. I was able to be called by my new male name. I was able to participate in a boys’ physical education class. Still, transitioning at school was not easy. I was targeted by one group of students who bullied me, even having pennies thrown at me on the bus.
However, having to be secluded and required to use a separate bathroom than what my classmates were using quickly became the most difficult part of my day that I had to deal with. Located in a remote part of the school, the restroom itself had a sign above the door that read “Restricted use only.” It didn’t get better on the inside. The facility was old, poorly maintained, and rarely cleaned. The lock on the door didn’t work and the water barely trickled from the faucet.
Besides the bad conditions, the restroom was isolated and hard to get to, meaning that getting to the restroom in the time I had between my classes was nearly impossible. I began to formulate strategies (often drinking very little throughout the day) so that I didn’t have to use the restroom during the entire school day. To say the least, holding it for an entire day could be extremely uncomfortable and I don’t think anyone should be put through that kind of unpleasant experience
I never liked being forced to use a restroom that no one else used. I eventually realized that being separated into this restroom was extremely demeaning and just not right. After all, when I went to the movies, out to eat, or to the mall, I used the public men’s room. No one cared. No one knew that I am transgender.
Over time, I began to feel like I was singled out at school. When I did use the “restricted use” restroom, it outed me to the entire school, who knew that only a student who is transgender would be asked to use that restroom. I became anxious and uncomfortable.
I asked the school to allow me to use the boys' restroom. When they declined, I filed the a charge with the IDHR that resulted in the agreement we've reached this week. For a few weeks now, I have been able to use the male restrooms at my school. No one seems to mind. No one is uncomfortable and friends have simply said “about time.” For the first time, I feel completely welcome and affirmed by my school – something that makes studying and learning much easier.
I am a senior, so I’ll be leaving the school soon. I leave knowing that the agreement we reached will mean that no future student will be knowingly ostracized for simply being who they are. The next transgender student at my school will hopefully find things a lot better than I did. I am proud to say that my school has made significant progress.