Bathrooms lose their genders at Vashon Island high school after students push for change

A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Students at Vashon Island High School asked the school board to undergo project to convert two bathrooms to gender-neutral. Toby Talbot AP file, 2007

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. — When students at Vashon Island High School return from winter break on Jan. 2, they'll find two less boys' and girls' bathrooms.

In their place will be a pair of all-gender bathrooms.

The change won’t surprise students — it was their idea from the beginning.

The Vashon Island School District has converted two of the school’s gender-segregated bathrooms into restrooms open to everyone, regardless of whether they are male, female or differently gendered.

It’s the first in the state to convert gender-specific bathrooms to all-gender versions. Some schools have previously created all-gender bathrooms in addition to their gender-specific restrooms.

Scroll down to continue reading

Trending headlines


A schoolwide assembly to open the rooms to all 525 students will be held at 8 a.m. on Jan. 2.

Student members of the Queer Spectrum Alliance, what might have been called a "gay-straight alliance" in the early 2000s, led the initiative to change the bathrooms.

“It’s our largest club, with 75 members,” superintendent Michael Soltman said Wednesday. “It’s about kids who have respect and support for kids of all genders.”

The students made suggestions on design for the district’s board of directors. They also came up with an education plan for students and parents.

“They put together a full proposal, and the board said OK,” Soltman said.

The board approved the request in the spring and allocated $25,000 for the renovation.

What were once male and female restrooms, located on the school’s second floor, have been retrofitted with stalls that provide increased privacy. In addition, urinals in the boy’s room have been removed.

“The gaps are completely eliminated and the stalls are much taller,” Soltman said.

The private bathroom stalls open to a common area with sinks.

Signage has been changed to read “All Gender Restroom.”

Two bathrooms on the ground floor — a girl’s and boy’s — will remain segregated by gender.

Previously, the school had a gender-neutral, one-stall bathroom that required a key for entry. Students said it created a feeling of “otherness.”

School officials said that gendered bathrooms are places where transgender and gender-nonconforming students can be bullied.

“Making bathrooms all-gender is the safest and clearest way to prevent students from having to explain or justify their bathroom use to anyone else,” said school principal Danny Rock. “It’s something none of us should ever had to endure.”

The school offered gender diversity education to both students and parents in December.

Soltman said he hasn’t had any negative feedback to the change.

“I sent out information to all parents,” he said. “I received three comments and they were all positive,”

So-called “bathroom bills” and similar legislation around the nation, including two recent failed attempts in Washington, have taken the stand that all-gender bathrooms are not safe places for females.

“We haven’t found any evidence that that’s the case,” Soltman said. “The schools we spoke to said they found the kids were more respectful and the restrooms were cleaner.”

Comments on this article