California could soon require public schools to have gender-neutral bathrooms in an effort to extend more rights and protections to LGBTQ+ students. The move, however, comes amid the newest wave of bathroom-centric legislation elsewhere, as conservatives in other states have successfully passed laws restricting transgender people’s ability to use the restrooms corresponding to their gender identities.
Introduced in February by Senator Josh Newman of District 29 (comprised of portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties), SB760 is only being considered almost a decade after the state’s landmark “School Success and Opportunity Act,” which required schools to acknowledge students’ gender identities.
Advocates say the new bill will offer students who are uncomfortable with multi-stall gender-specific restrooms — which many LGBTQ+ students avoid altogether — safety and privacy .
“Forty-five percent of LGBTQ+ and non-binary students actively avoid using gender-segregated school bathrooms because it makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable,” Jorge Reyes Salinas, the communications director for the civil rights organization Equality California told LAMag. “Avoiding bathroom usage can cause not only emotional stress, but physical harm as well in the form of dehydration, urinary tract infections, constipation and other health problems, as well as the risk of academic harm in form of people skipping school, truancy or diminishing grades.”
Shawn Meerkamper, a senior staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center, tells LAMag the bill will offer LGBTQ+ students an alternative, but that its provisions go beyond simply providing privacy to anyone uncomfortable with shared, gender-specific restrooms because of their gender identity.
“Gender-neutral bathrooms are incredibly important for a whole range of students, whether students who are gender non-binary, students who might be straight and cisgender and might have medical issues,” they say. “Gender-neutral bathrooms are very good for all kinds of different accessibility issues.”
The bill itself doesn’t mention whether or not the restrooms will be single-use or shared but Sen. Newman clarified it would be the former, the Los Angeles Times reported. Newman also said he wants to prevent the need for new construction or costly renovations. According to the bill, schools will have until January 1, 2025 to install gender-neutral bathrooms, which they will also be required to stock with menstrual products.
Newman may even find support from conservatives for the legislation.
Greg Burt, the director of the conservative Christian advocacy group, California Family Council, told the Times he would support the bill as long as the bathrooms required are single-stall.
“We are completely against multistall bathrooms that any sex can go into,” Burt said. “Once you make the bathroom a place where anyone can go in, both male and female, you’re making these bathrooms less safe. You don’t want to put them in a space where they could start abusing each other.”
But even as lawmakers in Sacramento are considering the bill, other legislatures have turned public schools into political battlegrounds over LGBTQ+ issues. In recent weeks, Arkansas, Idaho and Iowa have passed laws banning transgender people from using the bathrooms their gender identities. Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee have passed similar legislation and a similar bill is currently moving through Florida’s legislature.
“Requiring students to share restrooms and changing facilities with members of the opposite biological sex generates potential embarrassment, shame, and psychological injury to students,” Idaho’s recent bill says.
Sponsors and supporters of those bills have repeatedly argued that allowing trans or non-binary students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identities is a safety risk to cisgender students — something that LGBTQ+ advocates rebuke as simply a guise for discrimination.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent when we start signing discrimination and signing hate into the laws of our country—it’s un-American [and] against the principles that we were founded on,” Kris Tassone, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality said. “Once those laws are on the books, it takes time to overturn those, it takes time to course correct.”
“These are vulnerable children that we’re talking about and these are adult professionals who are trying to advance their careers by attacking children,” Meerkamper said. “It is cynical and it is pathetic and at the same time, it is really outright genocidal.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.