Sam Shenkman

I am currently in the 11th grade and I’m offering this op-ed to share my experiences, in the hope that we can create a more inclusive environment for students in California.

For three years – from 7th through 9th grade – I avoided using the bathroom at my school.  Though I had not yet “come out” to even my family as transgender, I was uncomfortable with using either the boys’ or girls’ restrooms.  My school had no accessible all-gender restrooms, so unless it was just impossible, I would hold it in all day until I was home.

The situation was appalling and felt discriminatory and exclusionary.  How could the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, in one of the most progressive parts of the country, not provide an accessible restroom for transgender students?  The school purportedly had an all-gender restroom, but it was only for teachers, locked, and to use that restroom I would have had to come out to my teachers as transgender – something I was not ready to do at 12 years old.

What must it be like for trans students in other less-progressive regions of California?  LGBTQ+ youth face constant bullying in schools; the lack of an accessible restroom makes school overtly unwelcoming and scary.  It’s no wonder then that queer youth are more than three times as likely to drop out of high school than their straight peers, four times as likely to be homeless, and nearly three times as likely to commit suicide.

This problem is particularly acute in Orange County.  I spoke with a friend attending school in the Newport Mesa Unified School District and the bathroom situation there was even more inaccessible than I had imagined.  The problem was raised in 2013 to the Capistrano Unified School District by one of its employees, but by all accounts nothing has been done there either in the subsequent nine years to solve the problem.

In the 10th grade, I built up the courage to raise the issue with the school principal.  To his credit, he quickly fixed the problem – designating two easily-accessible restrooms as all-gender.  What a relief!

But many of the tens of thousands of transgender students in California are not as fortunate.  Their school administrators may be unwilling to provide all-gender restrooms; and, even if they are provided, those restrooms may be locked or in an area inaccessible to students without navigating past teachers or staff, so a student is required to effectively “come out” in order to use the restroom. 

Leaving this problem for other transgender students would have been selfish and irresponsible, so I approached Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) to develop a legislative solution.  Along with Senator Newman’s staff, I researched the law, investigated how other California schools addressed the issue, and crafted legislation that will address the problem – making all California schools more welcoming to one of the most vulnerable groups of students.

The solution, it turns out, is not complicated.  The Los Angeles Unified School District, serving one-tenth of the state’s students, addressed the issue in 2019 – requiring every school to have sufficient all-gender restrooms, unlocked and unobstructed so they are accessible to students.  The details of how each school does this is left to each school principal.  The legislation we crafted does the same.  If Newport Mesa Unified School District and other districts in Orange County implemented the same policy I’m sure it would create a more safe environment for transgender students.

At this time, while other states actively seek to enshrine discrimination against transgender youth in their laws, and even subject parents of transgender youth to charges of child abuse, California can and should do better.  California should make it clear that all students deserve a quality education, free from the sort of indignity caused by the absence of accessible all-gender restrooms.

If you agree, please call or email Senator Newman (916-651-4029; senator.newman@senate.ca.gov) to express your support for this legislation, so no more LGBTQ+ students have to endure an unwelcoming school.  Or you can email me at samshenkman604545@gmail.com.

Sam Shenkman is a transgender non-binary 16-year-old student in his junior year at Malibu High School. He uses they/he pronouns, and has been interested in social justice and government for the majority of his 16 years on this Earth.  In his free time he likes to scroll on tiktok and read fan-fiction for anime — all of which are probably unrelatable to anyone over the age of 30.

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