Examining Bathroom Laws at MVRHS

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Examining Bathroom Laws at MVRHS

Jo Orr, Columnist

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In the past couple of years, there has been a huge debate nationwide about laws regarding transgender individuals in the bathroom they prefer. There have been multiple states with restrictive laws stating that the bathroom people use must correspond with their sex on their birth certificate, which received strong backlash from the transgender community.

Massachusetts passed a law in 2016 that stated: “The law provides that all people, including transgender people, may use whichever sex-segregated facilities, including restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms, are most consistent with their gender identity (rather than their assigned birth sex).” By law, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is required to let transgender individuals use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds with their identity. However, the student handbook at MVRHS does not state this, nor is it stated anywhere on the school website.

MVRHS principal Ms. Sara Dingledy, when asked about this omission, replied: “We should [put the law on the website], we absolutely should. [The district] spent a lot of time last year on the law, I’m surprised it’s not in there.”

Several transgender students have voiced their concerns over being harassed if they use the locker room or bathroom with which they identify.

Ms. Dingledy explained that the law protects transgender students in bathrooms and locker rooms, although she “can’t guarantee that everyone else is going to feel comfortable with that.”

“It’s really hard for us to intervene if we don’t have specifics [of harassment], and I know that’s really hard,” Dingledy stated. “If anyone were harassed, we would hope that either that person or an ally would come forward and let us know what happened so that we could intervene. Generally, our policy on harassment is this: the first time would be us having a conversation with [the harasser] to educate [them] about why that’s not okay. Then, if it happened again, we would take more concrete disciplinary action, whether it’s in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension based on the scenario. We don’t go immediately to [suspension], because our assumption is often that kids need some education first, and we’d only want to take disciplinary action if it emerges as a pattern.”

“Our big thing is that we do have some stand-alone non-gender-specific bathrooms,” said Ms. Dingledy. “People can always use that if they’re not comfortable.”

There is one gender-neutral bathroom in the school, located in the nurse’s office.

The Gender-Sexuality Alliance created a Mentor Monday circle in February explaining to the school the rules in place for bathrooms, which was met with mixed replies. The biggest setback was that since gender isn’t taught in school, every student was coming into the discussion with a different amount of education on the subject, which makes it more difficult to get the point across. For example, if a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior were put into an AP Calculus class, they wouldn’t be able to learn together as a class because not all of them have enough background information to understand the content. The conversation focused more on people’s backgrounds with gender and trying to get people up to speed instead of trying to understand the laws.

One of the chief concerns of cisgender people learning this law is the ability for people to misuse it for their benefit. For example, one common theory is that a man could dress up as a woman to spy on and harass girls. However, the law covers that too. The Gender Identity Guidance for Public Accommodations statement says: “This law does not allow individuals to gain access to a sex-segregated facility that is not consistent with their gender identity. When there is a legitimate reason to believe that someone is not using the appropriate facility, a limited inquiry may be warranted in order to ascertain that person’s gender identity.”

These laws make it so transgender students are protected, no matter what people’s background knowledge is. The MVRHS administration is moving forward, eager to learn how to better support their students’ needs.

“I think the discussion the past couple years has been less about the laws and more about inclusion,” said Ms. Dingledy, “and what we can do as an organization to support kids.”