Stuyvesant’s Gender Neutral Bathrooms
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It may come as a surprise, but Stuyvesant has five gender-neutral bathrooms: one on the fifth floor in front of the cafeteria, two in the third-floor nurse’s office, one at the back of the senior atrium in 273B, and one in room 107. Among these bathrooms, two (in 273B and 107) are respectively the personal bathrooms of Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram and Principal Seung Yu, who have opened their bathrooms for student use. As the name suggests, these bathrooms are open to all students regardless of their gender and are single-stalled to ensure privacy.
These gender-neutral bathrooms are especially important to gender nonconforming students. Sophomore Michelle Huang, who is non-binary, feels there are benefits to gender-neutral bathrooms. “I don’t really mind using the gendered bathrooms, but I think gender-neutral bathrooms make me feel a bit more secure in my [gender] identity because I feel like if I use the gendered bathrooms, people automatically assume my gender. With gender neutral bathrooms, it’s more ambiguous,” they said.
However, gender-neutral bathrooms appear to be less accessible than gendered ones. In reality, only the fifth floor bathroom is widely used. “The second and third floor ones are down the most obscure hallways in Stuyvesant, but the fifth floor one is definitely really easily accessible,” sophomore Jakob Weir said.
In fact, none of our interviewees were aware of the locations of all five gender-neutral bathrooms. This is especially a problem considering the only well-known gender-neutral bathroom, on the fifth floor, is often occupied. Senior Francis Zweifler states his difficulties when trying to find a place to change for gym. “There [are] only like two [gender-neutral bathrooms] for the entire school, which is a bit of an issue and there’s only one you can access without having to sign into the nurse’s office, so it’s just generally very inconvenient,” he said. This concern is heightened for students, particularly seniors, with gym teachers who are stringent about uniform-changing policy, as they may not have the time to search for an unoccupied gender-neutral bathroom before every gym class.
Stuyvesant Spectrum co-president Ruby Friedman, who is gender-nonconforming, emphasized that gender-neutral bathrooms are not only important for their practical purposes, but also as a matter of showing respect to a marginalized community. “I think easily accessible gender-neutral bathrooms are a human right,” Friedman said. “Imagine if you had to go several floors up or down to use the bathroom while in a class.”
Huang also brought up that the gender-neutral bathrooms are currently concentrated in the lower floors. A more even distribution of gender-neutral to gendered bathrooms would be a step towards gender inclusivity that would benefit everyone, not just gender nonconforming students. “Not only can gender-neutral students who may feel uncomfortable using the gendered bathrooms use the gender-neutral bathrooms, but also if the bathrooms are more accessible, it’s easier for gender conforming students to use them so [students] don’t need to wait in line if the gendered ones are too long,” they said.
Freshman Bogdan Sotnikov suggested replacing all gendered bathrooms with gender-neutral ones, questioning why we continue binary categorization when biological sex and sexuality do not determine how someone chooses to categorize themself. “I think gender-neutral restrooms are better than gendered ones, because they are more inclusive to gender-nonconforming people and waste less space. In my opinion, there’s not much of a reason to separate restrooms by gender now that transgender people are more accepted and can use their preferred restroom,” he states.
This idea isn’t necessarily a universally accepted one. Nonetheless, most students agree that Stuyvesant should make changes to accommodate the LGBTQ+ community. Huang suggested, for example, making menstrual products more accessible to everyone. “For transgender students, they could put pads and tampons in both gender bathrooms,” they said.
Friedman found that Stuyvesant’s problems with gender exclusivity extended outside gender-neutral bathrooms. “Stuy isn’t great with gender-neutral students,” they said. “Barely any of my teachers use my pronouns and many of them don’t even ask.”
English teacher Lauren Stuzin advocates for Stuyvesant to make an active effort to embrace the spectrum of gender and sexuality. “I think the school should make more of an effort to discuss [the] intersectionality of identity, both in classes and at large,” they said in an e-mail interview. “Students are unable to put their pronouns on Google Classroom, Jupiter, or Talos, and are often not asked by teachers what their pronouns are. Recently, I have heard that students won’t be able to put their pronouns or their names (if their names are different than their legal names, that is) on the yearbook.”
Stuzin had some suggestions to improve Stuyvesant’s approach to making the school an inclusive community. “I think Stuyvesant should have a handout, a talk circle, or an assembly about LGBTQIA+ identities, and the intersectionality of those identities,” they said. “Maybe there could also be a class that addresses those topics, or a portion of the health curriculum that focuses on queerness and the sex spectrum.”
Whether it is in making gender-neutral bathrooms more accessible, or being aware of students’ pronouns, Stuyvesant still has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community. “I think these issues should be regarded with more seriousness,” Stuzin said. “I hope in the future, there can be more support for students moving through homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and racist systems.”