Ore. High School Opens Unisex Bathrooms to Accommodate Transgender Students

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The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that, nationwide, the number of high school-aged students who identify with being transsexual -- people who want to or will transition from one sex or another, and not necessarily do it with medical help (hormones, surgery) -- is about one-third of 1 percent.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the organization, praised Grant's decision to create unisex bathrooms, calling it a "smart and compassionate" move for the transgender students.

"Any school worth its salt wants to be a safe place and welcoming place for every student," Keisling said. "It's really great. They came up with a really good common-sense solution."

But, Keisling pointed out, lots of public areas, including malls and airports, have started installing unisex bathrooms for all sorts of people, including those with disabilities or certain health issues and those who are caring for someone of a different sex -- such as a mother with a young son -- and not just for the LGBT community.

When asked whether she thought the separate bathrooms at Grant would increase the stigma around transgender students, she said, "There is always going to be people who don't like transgender people or who don't understand trans-people, but you have to really go fishing to find something wrong with this."

At the beginning of the 2012 school year, Portland Public Schools' general counsel Jollee Patterson sent school administrators guidelines about how to handle transgender issues, including bathrooms.

"This (bathroom) issue requires us to consider the need to support our transgender students, while also doing our best to ensure the safety and comfort of all students," she wrote. "In no case shall a transgender student be required to use a bathroom that conflicts with the student's gender identity."

At Grant, the six bathrooms are spread throughout campus, including one in the weight room, and any student is allowed to use the unisex bathrooms.

"This is just a third option," Westphal said.

Grant was the first in its school district to create a different bathroom as a result of concerns raised by some of their transgender students and, overall, students and parents have welcomed the idea, Westphal said. After hearing about Grant, another school in the Tigard-Tualatin school district said they were interested in doing the same thing.

"The only reaction I've heard there has been positive," she said. "We have a pretty accepting school system."

When asked whether she was surprised by all of the national attention the new bathrooms were receiving, Westphal laughed.

"It is kind of funny because it's such a simple thing," she said. "It was very simple to do, and it's something as pretty basic as a human right."

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