Education Opinion

Bathrooms and Locker Rooms: A New Battlefield

By Starr Sackstein — November 10, 2015 4 min read
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by Douglas W. Green, EdD

It’s hard to imagine you haven’t heard about the controversy at Palatine, Illinois high school, where a transgender girl playing on a girls’ sports team is demanding unfettered access to the girls locker room.

Along these same lines the city of Houston, TX recently voted no on a proposition that among other things would let anyone use any bathroom based on the gender that they identify with.

Now that schools are facing these issues I hope we can come up with solutions that can work for people on both sides of this matter. For one, I find it easy to sympathize with transgender students as I’m sure that they face a difficult and in some cases hostile world, where some oppose their personal needs.

The person in question in Palatine was born a male and later started to identify as a female. This included taking on a girl’s name, dressing as a girl, and expecting the school to treat him/her accordingly. One problem some people have here is that she still has male parts. No doubt the parents of some girls are concerned about the unlikely possibility that their daughter will be exposed to male private parts in a school locker room.

What is more curious to me though is why the school was quick to allow this child to play on the girls team. Suppose your daughter was the last girl cut on a team that featured one or more positions occupied by girls with male bodies. Does this change the dynamic of the game being played?

How would other schools in their league and the league itself handle this? Should one school have an advantage on the field because a team contains players who are physically boys? Since boys on average are bigger and stronger than girls, does this seem fair? At the national, international, and olympic levels, women have to prove that they are indeed females in order to participate in women’s events. Should this be any different at the high school level?

High school girls have often played on boys teams as their generally smaller bodies don’t give the team an unfair advantage. This commonly happens in golf where schools don’t have a girls’ team. I’ve seen it in football where the girl on the team is most likely the field goal kicker. Girls on wrestling teams are not uncommon. In this case size isn’t an issue due to weight divisions. I’ve also seen girls on baseball and bowling teams, but I haven’t heard of any outcry about locker rooms as a result.

Some people in Houston say they voted against men in women’s’ bathrooms even though the proposal in question was much broader than that. Some also expressed a worry that cross-dressing men could engage in inappropriate behavior if allowed. Schools, however, can better control their bathrooms and privacy shouldn’t be an issue as all one finds in girl’s locker and bathrooms are private lockable stalls. It’s not like the boy’s room where the use of urinals are somewhat less private. Schools that allow anyone to use any bathroom are certainly more likely to get complaints from girls and their parents even though privacy should be less of an issue.

In an ideal world, all bathrooms would be unisex. For schools this would add to the cost so many schools let transgender kids use single stall rooms that are often designed for staff. Unfortunately, this isn’t good enough for some students, parents, and organizations that support LGBT issues. This seems to sort itself out as a liberal/conservative issue with the liberals like the “New York Times” editorial page being all for total transgender rights.

As for locker rooms in schools, it’s rare today for students to shower after physical education classes. This issue is more about athletic teams where players may take showers after workouts and games. There are other venues, however, where modesty is not a big deal. If a transgender boy decided to use the locker room at the YMCA I attend for example, he/she would get quite a show regarding male anatomy. Ideally, locker rooms would be set up where every player has a stall for changing and showering in private. This would be expensive, but it would help in a number of ways.

In addition to the transgender issue, there is the matter of gay students in locker rooms, and supervising adults seeing naked student bodies. I fully support gay rights, but I suspect that some straight people would rather not have to undress in front of someone of their gender physically attracted to people of their gender. While private showers won’t solve every problem, they do offer all students a degree of privacy that they deserve. For now the free alternative is for kids to throw on a sweatsuit and shower at home. This also gets rid of shower supervision issues and the school saves on hot water.

As a retired principal, I’m from an age when I swam naked in the YMCA pool as a kid. I’ve also been to beaches in Europe where people were mostly nude. Since I was a child, our culture has changed and students are far more modest. I see this as a good thing, and I encourage leaders on both sides of the argument to focus on the privacy for all aspect of the issue rather than putting children into situations where they could be exposed to bodies of students born with a different gender. I think we can have equal treatment for all if we work together and keep this issue from becoming another political football.

* Legal Clips: National School Boards Association, “Christian advocacy group calling on New York state district to reverse policy allowing a transgender student to use the boys’ restroom and locker room facilities,” November 6, 2015 http://bit.ly/1WDyurV

You can contact Dr Douglas Green on Twitter @drdouggreen

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