FARGO-Fargo School Board member John Strand says it’s time for the school district to design its schools to accommodate transgender students.
Strand asked at a recent school board meeting if Ed Clapp Elementary, which opens this fall, will have a gender neutral bathroom available for students or teachers who are transgender.
“The times are a changing,” Strand said Wednesday. ”I think it’s a topic worth researching.”
Strand said watching a televised interview with Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, who is transitioning to being a woman, made the issue more real.
“People know about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). But the T is the one we don’t have much of a handle on,” Strand said. “Every student needs to feel as safe as possible and comfortable as possible. As public schools, if we can do that, I just don’t see any harm in it at all.”
Family bathrooms, which are gender neutral, are in several Fargo-Moorhead schools, officials said.
Fargo Davies High School has a family bathroom near its gymnasium that can offer a transgender person privacy, Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Wednesday.
Ed Clapp and the elementary school to be built from the Eagles Center will also have family bathrooms, a district spokeswoman confirmed.
Older buildings have single-stall bathrooms for staff that could be used by students if need be, Schatz said.
The Moorhead School District built gender neutral/family bathrooms with additions at Probstfield Center for Education and Robert Asp Elementary. An expansion at S.G. Reinertsen Elementary will have one, too, spokeswoman Pam Gibb said.
The West Fargo School District hasn’t had the issue broached yet, spokeswoman Alicia Severson said. But it’s a topic that could be considered by a new Diversity Council that has its first meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Leidal Education Center.
Concordia College, Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University all have gender neutral bathrooms, officials said Wednesday.
“As silly as it sounds, having a safe space to pee is something that many in the trans community can’t take for granted,” said Raymond Rea, a professor of cinema arts and digital technologies at MSUM.
Rea said he transitioned to being a male about 17 years ago. During a sex change, there can be a time when a person feels unwelcome in either a men’s or women’s bathroom, he said.
“One tiny, unisex bathroom and you can really save people a lot of heartache,” Rea said.
Kristen Benson, an assistant professor in North Dakota State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Science, said she interviewed the mother of a 9-year-old as part of her research.
The child didn’t eat or drink throughout the day away from home, Benson said, “because that child didn’t want to use the restroom” due to fear of harassment.
Kara Gravley-Stack, NDSU’s director of diversity initiatives and coordinator of the LGBTQ program, said safe restrooms are seen as “a critical piece” for the safety of transgender students who are coming out.
Gender neutral restrooms hurt no one, Benson and Gravley-Stack said.
“It’s just being mindful and being intentional,” Benson said. “The folks who don’t need them, don’t notice. The folks that do need them, it sends a message that they really matter.”
There are about 700,000 adults in the U.S. who identify as transgender, a study by The Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles reports.