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Protecting local youth by making restrooms safer

Want to support the work of Amor Para Todos? All month long, the group is raising money for its programs, with a big final event planned for the end of June at Ayawaska RestoBar. “We are hoping to raise $20,000 during this fundraiser, all to support our Saving Lives Now project,” said founder Renee Ho. “There will be different booths, and a donation table with various means for donating. And Ayawaska is going to make a signature Amor Para Todos rainbow cocktail, which is going to be very cool.”

WHAT? Month-long fundraiser for Amor Para Todos (Love For All), in support of its’ Saving Lives Now programs.

WHEN? Donations now being taken on the fundraising page, with a campaign closing event on Wednesday, June 30, beginning 3 p.m. There will be booths and activities, and special Amor Para Todos rainbow cocktails, with a percentage of food purchases being donated to APT.

WHERE? The campaign-ender takes place at Ayawaska RestoBar, 101 2nd St.

INFORMATION: Learn more about the Give Out Day event and the mission of Amor Para Todos at Giveoutday.org/organization/Amor-Para-Todos.

To many bullied school children, the most terrifying spot on campus is not the open playground. It’s not the gladiatorial expanse of the sports field.

It’s the restroom.

Cloaked from adult supervision for significant swaths of time, the average multi-use school washroom can feel like the wild west to any student who’s caught the attention of cruel or predatory classmates. In such out-of-sight, close-quartered environments, regular harassment, hazing, abuse and violence are a stark reality that only becomes multiplied when the bullied child is transgender or non-gender-conforming.

“Trans and non-binary kiddos will hold their pee all day to avoid going into one of their school’s multi-stall public restrooms, where it is often extremely dangerous for them,” said Renee Ho, founder of the Petaluma-based Amor Para Todos.

Founded in 2019, the grassroots organizations (its name translated as Love For All) was formed to help parents and teachers create safe and respectful educational environments where children, especially LGBTQI students, can thrive academically and socially. In recognition of high rates of depression, sleeplessness and suicidal behaviors reported among such populations by groups like The Trevor Project, Amor Para Todos is now taking steps to launch a five-goal project dubbed Saving Lives Now.

Among those goals is creating safer campuses by encouraging schools to remove Boys and Girls signs from existing single stall restrooms — should a schoolyard, library or other related space happen to have any — converting them instead into All Gender bathrooms. Ho, a Petaluma mother with children in the Old Adobe Union School District, says she’s learned that the safety of restrooms, or absence thereof, is a major issue among trans and non-binary students.

“It’s serious when they are too afraid to use a restroom at school,” she said. “Many of them end up with infections, and have to go on antibiotics, and end up missing school. Having some All Gender restrooms is good for all children, not just LGBT kids. There are a lot of kids who like their privacy, bullied kids who deserve to use the toilet without fear of being hurt or mistreated.”

Ho said the problem only gets worse as kids grow older.

“There are statistics showing increased levels of harassment and violence, physical and sexual violence, taking place in public restrooms, not necessarily in the younger schools, but the junior high and high schools,” said Ho.

One source of such statistics is the Trevor Project, a 23-year-old nonprofit founded to establish suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQI+ youth. Another is the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which published a study in 2017 showing that harassment in public restrooms is strongly connected to a profound deterioration of self-esteem and sense of safety among transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

“So yes, it’s a problem,” said Ho. “School restrooms are scary for any bullied kiddo, but when you’re transgender or non-binary it can be even more terrifying.”

The practical changes that Amor Para Todos is calling for, beginning with campuses inside Petaluma’s Old Adobe Union School District, are already state law, Ho pointed out.

“The thing is, there are so many laws that have been in effect for years, but the majority of schools aren’t in compliance with them yet,” she said.

One such piece of legislation, passed in California as AB-1732, became law in March of 2017, calling for all single-stall restrooms in California need to be all gender. The requirement relates not just to schools, but, according to the bill, “Any business establishment, place of public accommodation, or government agency.”

In most cases, the change is as simple as swapping out the sign on the restroom door. As part of the group’s effort to bring such changes to local school campuses, Amor Para Todos is partnering with Sign Optima, which has agreed to manufacture All Gender restroom signs for local schools and other institutions, and to offer a 10% discount to those who are referred by APT.

“We’re going to have them bilingual, in Spanish and English,” said Ho, adding that many of the restrooms that are to be converted will also be a welcome improvement for some wheelchair-users and others who would prefer a single-stall facility. Working with a crowdfunded Bay Area business called The Degenderator, founded by San Francisco State University design instructor Robb Godshaw, Amor Para Todos is proposing a sleek, attractive sign, thoughtfully designed to be black (a gender-neutral color) with iconography that includes a more dynamic wheelchair image, and even a slightly updated silhouette of a toilet.

Want to support the work of Amor Para Todos? All month long, the group is raising money for its programs, with a big final event planned for the end of June at Ayawaska RestoBar. “We are hoping to raise $20,000 during this fundraiser, all to support our Saving Lives Now project,” said founder Renee Ho. “There will be different booths, and a donation table with various means for donating. And Ayawaska is going to make a signature Amor Para Todos rainbow cocktail, which is going to be very cool.”

WHAT? Month-long fundraiser for Amor Para Todos (Love For All), in support of its’ Saving Lives Now programs.

WHEN? Donations now being taken on the fundraising page, with a campaign closing event on Wednesday, June 30, beginning 3 p.m. There will be booths and activities, and special Amor Para Todos rainbow cocktails, with a percentage of food purchases being donated to APT.

WHERE? The campaign-ender takes place at Ayawaska RestoBar, 101 2nd St.

INFORMATION: Learn more about the Give Out Day event and the mission of Amor Para Todos at Giveoutday.org/organization/Amor-Para-Todos.

Ho points out that the signs are available to businesses throughout Petaluma. In restaurants, coffee shops and other locations, such conversions from single-stall Men’s or Women’s restrooms to All Gender facilities have already become run-of-the-mill under AB-1732. In fact, they have proven to be a welcome time saver for anyone waiting in line for their specifically-gendered restroom while a different-gendered room stands empty.

“In addition to Sign Optima giving a 10% discount to all APT referral customers,” said Ho, “they will donate 10% of their proceeds from such referrals back to APT. We hope this will motivate more people to be in compliance.”

Also, Ho said, Amore Para Todos has applied for a grant to assist schools in making the conversion.

“For a lot of kids, these single-stall restrooms will be a game changer,” she said. “We plan to come up with a resource guide for schools, so everyone knows what the reason for them is, how to keep them safe, what the signs mean.”

Ho would like supporters to know that Amor Para Todos — which has launched a month-long fundraiser to culminate with a Give Out Day event at Petaluma’s Ayawaska on June 30 — has four additional goals as part of its Saving Lives Now project.

One of those goals is to expand local adoption of a currently operating Welcoming Schools professional anti-bias training program for teachers and administrators, designed to decrease bullying and harassment of LGBTQI kids in the schools. Two years ago, Amor Para Todos raised funds for a handful of schools within the Old Adobe Union School District to present the training. But it was postponed in 2020 because of COVID-19. According to Ho, the district will be presenting the final part of the training in August.

Another piece of Saving Lives Now is to expand a program called the APT Student Club, an idea suggested by a student in the district.

“It was a kid who said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a club where we could teach everyone to love each other and support and respect each other?’” said Ho. “We floated the idea, and it turns out there were a lot of other students who had interest in an APT Student Club, and now we have teachers who want to be advisers.”

A handful of schools have begun the student-led clubs, holding them virtually so far, due to schools being closed during the pandemic.

“The plan is, when school starts again, to have all the schools in the district offer the clubs for kids who would like to be a part of them,” Ho said.

The final two goals are for local school district adoption of a gender inclusive Family Life/Sex Ed curriculum in compliance with the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA), and to encourage local schools to move forward with a federally-mandated general K-6th grade gender/LGBTQIA+ inclusive curriculum, separate from sex education classes.

“California laws such as the the Fair Act, called SB-48, which came into effect in 2012, state that California schools should be teaching about gender and the LGBTQIA+ population in schools, which is a general curriculum, not Sex Ed,” Ho explained.

Taken together, Ho believes that the quintet of goals that Amor Para Todos is already hard at work to bring about are achievable, affordable and necessary.

“All these things we are working on with the Saving Lives Now project are really that, they are about saving lives,’ she said. ”We want to be part of decreasing the super-high harassment and bullying and suicide statistics in the LGBTQI+ population. We want to make children safer, and happier, and more confident. Who doesn’t want to do that?“

For more information about Amor Para Todos, visit the the group’s Facebook page.

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