Students in Santee Education Complex's Gay-Straight Alliance have been working since January to generate support around a campaign called "It's Just a Toilet." The idea behind the campaign, which was sponsored by the school's biggest campus club, was simple: To advocate for a gender-neutral restroom on campus.
"Why can’t I have a restroom where I can use the restroom and not be judged for who I am, or for what my sexual identity is," asked Johnny Ramos, a Santee senior and GSA leader. "At the end of the day we’re all humans. We all have to pee and poop.”
On Thursday, the South L.A. school announced that it is the first campus in the LAUSD to open a multi-stall, gender-neutral bathroom.
“One of the regular restrooms for students, we’re transforming into a gender-neutral space so any student who wants to go pee, can do so in peace,” said Jose Lara, a Santee social studies teacher and GSA adviser.
While Lara said that there was some pushback around safety, several measures were taken to keep it a safe space. In addition to regular bathroom patrols already in place, those include a text-tip hotline and locating the gender-neutral bathroom in the center of campus.
Another concern, according to Lara, was that all bathrooms on campus would be made gender-neutral. But only one women's restroom on the second level of the school will be converted.
“We want this to be successful, so we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure this restroom is safe, that nothing wrong happens in there and that students feel comfortable using the restroom of their choice,” Lara said.
The decision from the South Central L.A. school comes at a moment when gendered restrooms are a hot topic around the country. In North Carolina, a recent law that says people must use the restroom that corresponds to the gender assigned to them at birth has caused controversy. The same conversation conversation circulated around a similar South Dakota law back in February.
Ramos said that gender-neutral restrooms aren't just for LGBT students, they are spaces where anyone can walk in without having to define or explain their gender.
"I went to the restroom with my friend once, and he was like 'What are you doing? You can't come in here because you're a girl,' and I was like 'No I'm not,' and he was like, 'Ya, you are. You're gay,'" Ramos said.
Although he brushed the comment off, he knows that others in that situation could be more offended.
"Our students who advocated for the gender-neutral restroom are the real heroes today, and in the process they developed leadership traits that will prepare them for college and career,” said Santee Principal Martin Gomez in a press release.
The students presented their campaign to more than 20 classrooms, the school site council and their principal. They also held a demonstration and received more than 715 signatures from students and some staff on a petition.
“I’ve never done a campaign before," said Kween Robinson, a junior at Santee and a leader of the GSA. "I didn’t even know the first thing to do. All I know is that I had an idea, and I was going to run with it. This could have this domino effect that I want, that everybody at LAUSD could one day have a gender-neutral restroom.”
A self-described "flower child," Robinson said that "It's Just a Toilet" taught her how to use her voice.
“A lot of times students don’t want to speak up because they feel like they’re going to be belittled or like their voice isn’t really going to be heard,” Robinson said. “You have a voice, use it.”
The students will formally announce their campaign's victory Thursday at 3:15 p.m. in front of the school's campus.