Protecting local youth by making restrooms safer
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.