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Fights break out over first gender-neutral bathroom in L.A. Unified School District

The Washington Post The Washington Post 21/04/2016 Yanan Wang

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Students at Santee Education Complex, a high school in Los Angeles, thought they were settling a fraught debate in the simplest terms possible. Their campaign, launched this January, upheld a disarming message: “It’s Just a Toilet.”

Led by the Gay Straight Alliance on campus, they advocated for a multi-stall, gender-neutral restroom — the first in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country. With a petition boasting over 700 signatures, they succeeded, and the bathroom was officially opened last week.

“All-Gender Restroom,” read a new sign on the second floor. Student activists rejoiced. “We just need to pee,” they had said, and now they could, comfortably.

Then the real trouble started.

The first gender-neutral restroom in the Los Angeles school district is seen at Santee Education Complex high school in Los Angeles, California. © REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files The first gender-neutral restroom in the Los Angeles school district is seen at Santee Education Complex high school in Los Angeles, California.

Despite majority support for the new restroom within the school, some adults condemned the change, and took their opinions and bullhorns to the school.

Standing across the street from Santee on Tuesday, protesters held signs that declared in bold yellow letters “Homo Sex Is Sin.” Video footage shows a man dressed in all-black yelling into a loudspeaker: “You’re going to burn in hell, Santee. Oh, yes.”  

An L.A. school police officer told the Associated Press that the protesters belong to the Westboro Baptist Church, a group notorious for its anti-gay stance and intrusive demonstrations across the country. The Kansas-based organization, best known for anti-gay picketing at military funerals, targeted Wilson High School in Northwest Washington in 2014 where students are holding a Pride Day.

Students rally outside Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. © AP Photo/Nick Ut Students rally outside Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Angered by the demonstration, some students “engaged” the protesters, authorities from the Los Angeles School Police Department said at a news conference. Students confronted the protesters and began throwing fruits and water bottles. A brawl between high schoolers and grownups ensued.

One student was briefly detained by the school police, school officials told the Los Angeles Times, but no one was charged or cited. No one was injured.

“I stood on the sidelines and cried,” Kween Robinson, a student in the Gay Straight Alliance told the L.A. Times.

The protesters indicated online that they would return to the school on Wednesday. Seeing this, former Santee teacher Ron Gochez organized a counter-rally with the San Diego-based Union del Barrio political group, pledging support for the students, the L.A. Times reported.

In the end, no protesters turned up on Wednesday. Santee was instead the host of a peace rally, where students waved rainbow flags and carried signs that read, “Keep Calm, It’s Just a Toilet.”

Santee Principal Martin Gomez expressed pride for his students’ campaign, describing them as “trailblazers,” KTLA reported.

“Yesterday, a small group of adults unsuccessfully attempted to discredit the brave actions of our students by protesting against the school’s recently approved gender-neutral restrooms,” Gomez said in a statement. “Above all, we want to ensure the safety of our students despite outside factors and influencers.”

Robinson was heartened by the support from Gomez and Union del Barrio.

“Santee is poppin’,” she told the L.A. Times. “I love this. That’s all you need in life — people to help you fight against your oppressors.”

According to the L.A. Times, parents have expressed concern about how students will be protected from sexual harassment and bullying in the new bathroom. Alliance faculty advisor Jose Lara said students have joked about “making babies” there.

But school officials pointed out that bullying and harassment can occur in any bathroom. A texting hotline has been established for students to notify staff of misconduct.

The bathroom is a welcome change for 16-year-old Alonzo Hernandez, who transitioned from female to male last fall. He told the L.A. Times that he avoided using the bathroom for entire days at a time.

“I just want to be able to use the restroom without being questioned,” Alonzo said.

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