City Public Schools Conform to America’s Transgender Restroom Policy

Hillcrest students rush to class before the late bell rings.

The transgender community is advancing in the public sphere, becoming more visible in the fashion industry, on live streaming shows like Orange is the New Black, and even on Facebook with their custom gender option.

Unfortunately, the transgender community remains vulnerable and underrepresented, murdered, suicidal, and victims to violence and abuse. According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 90 percent of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) students hear anti-LGBTQ comments in school and more than 28 percent have poor grades, repeat a grade, or drop out of school because of this harassment.

In May 2016, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to public schools across the country to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Several states including North Carolina have filed federal lawsuits against the Obama administration to push back against his order.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, all single sex occupant bathrooms in New York City must become gender neutral according to a bill approved by the City Council. This bill could affect thousands of restrooms in malls, bars, restaurants, and businesses across the tri-state area.

“With this bill, we take yet another step toward becoming a place where all can live with dignity, free from fear and free from judgment,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a June 28, 2016 press release.

This bill does not exclude schools, which has caused intense controversy in public and throughout social media.

“In my experience of working with people, people are often scared because they are not educated, and they don’t take time to learn,” said David Morrison, Principal of Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, NY.

“We just want to do the right thing by each other, and have people feel safe and comfortable in supporting who they are as individuals, students especially” said Morrison.

When supporting Hillcrest’s transgender students, faculty considers numerous factors: looking at the student’s preference, protecting the privacy of the student, as well as ensuring the student’s equal opportunity to participate. Currently, alternative arrangements are made available, which include a private area, a different changing schedule, and using a single stall restroom, said Morrison.

“I knew I was trans before I even knew what trans was,” said Kristen Strand-Alvarez, a sophomore at Hillcrest who is referred to as “Max” and plans to receive hormonal therapy and gender transformation surgery.

He chooses to entirely abstain from using the Hillcrest bathrooms because he does not feel comfortable.

“I either go to the girl’s bathroom and feel complete dysphoria, or I go to the men’s bathroom — which I feel like I belong — and I feel like I am not worthy of using it. I try to avoid using the bathrooms here because I don’t want to feel like I am in the position to choose. For the locker rooms, I just try to ignore the fact that they put ‘the girls’ in front of it, and just go. It’s a little bit difficult because then I’d have to talk to the principal as well, and I am not really ready to come out to everyone. I told Ms. Dejean and she helped me come out to my teachers, but then I didn’t really care for the locker rooms because, for me, it’s just a place where you get changed,” said Max.

“Within that community, a male to female transition is usually the one that is not as accepted. I can see females being very uncomfortable in the bathroom with a male to female transgender person,” said Regine Dejean, a Guidance Counselor of the Media Arts and Music Small Learning Community at Hillcrest.

Dejean interacts with students on a daily basis, represents approximately a dozen students that will be affected and supports the bill.

“In schools especially, parents are concerned that students will not be safe sharing a bathroom, because they are assuming that something bad will happen,” said Dejean.

“Historically, popular personal beliefs about what is appropriate for males and females…If you grow up with that view, it is difficult for you to accept something different. Society as a whole has that view, and therefore, a lot of people fail to accept it,” said Dejean.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Erin Belfort said in a Portland Press Herald article on Feb. 7, 2016 that being transgender is not a wish or want to be another person.

“It’s not ‘I want to be a girl,’ or ‘I wish I was a girl,’ it’s ‘I am a girl.’ Gender identity is a core part of who we are, and established in early toddlerhood. It is not a choice and not a lifestyle. Above all, it has nothing to do with sexual identity, but with the gender one feels internally,” said Dr. Belfort.

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