Ore. school creates unisex bathrooms for transgender students

PORTLAND, Ore. - A local high school has taken the unusual step of creating unisex bathrooms because it wants children to feel safe.

For most students the choice is simple when it comes to which restroom they choose. But for transgender students at Grant High School, that choice is a lot tougher and some were even drinking less water in the course of the day to avoid having to make it.

"A lot of people had been going through this for a long time, and we didn't even really realize it," said Emily Volpert, an editor and writer for the school's student magazine.

She wrote an article about her school putting in six unisex bathrooms. She said talking with her transgender classmates for the report was eye-opening.

"I never even thought about how difficult it would be to decide whether you were going to the bathroom that matches your birth gender or the one that you identify with," she said.

Vice Principal Kristyn Westphal learned about the issue from school counselors who had transgender students confide in them.

"I think there's a lot more acceptance of difference," she said. "If students don't have their most basic needs met, there is no way they can focus on academics. So we just want to make sure that all our students have what they need, first of all as human beings and secondly as students."

Volpert found that it's not just transgender students who benefit from the bathrooms. The option is a welcome one for others across the spectrum.

"I've talked to some people who said they'd get weird looks like, oh, why is there a boy in the girls' bathroom with just females who look more masculine," she said. "I think that, especially when you're in school when you're trying to figure out who you are, who you want to be, and who you want to hang out with, it's important to feel safe when you're going to the bathroom."

The school didn't create new bathrooms, it simply converted ones they already had to unisex ones.

Volpert's article quotes Grant's principal who came to Portland from New York City three years ago. She says unisex bathrooms have been around in New York schools for at least a decade.