A new decision from the New York City Department of Education will make a vital change for transgender and gender non-conforming students in the city's public schools. Carmen Farina, chancellor of the city's DOE, announced Tuesday that every NYC public school is mandated to have at least one single-stall (read: gender-inclusive) bathroom starting in January of 2018, the Associate Press reports.
The decision was made specifically to support transgender students and students who have disabilities or other medical needs, according to the AP.
Having a bathroom that is not gender-specific is especially important for trans students now, following President Trump's decision to lift protections for gender-nonconforming students in school bathrooms.
Under President Obama, schools were federally required to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Students who transitioned from male to female (MtF) were legally able to use the women's restroom, and those who transitioned from female to male (FtM) were able to use the men's. In February, the Trump administration removed those federal guidelines because the "directive caused confusion and lawsuits over how it should be applied," the Justice Department said at the time.
While mandating one single-stall, non gender-specific bathroom in every public school isn't a perfect solution, it is an important step for trans and gender-nonconforming students in New York City.
The bathrooms will likely relieve some stress for students who either do not have a public restroom that corresponds with their gender or who may feel uncomfortable using either the men's or the women's bathrooms. Even under Obama's protections, trans and gender non-conforming students faced harassment in public bathrooms at school and otherwise.
Harassment or the fear of harassment has been proven to keep gender-nonconforming people out of public bathrooms, and to lead to problems like dehydration or urinary tract infections. Having a single-use bathroom allows students a safe, comfortable place to use the bathroom at school.
Of course, some NYC schools have hundreds of students, so trans and gender-nonconforming kids who go to schools that choose to build only one of these bathrooms could still be forced to wait for long periods of time to be able to use it — especially if cisgender students who do not have a medical need also use the single-stall bathroom.
Still, NYC has proven a dedication to helping gender non-conforming students feel safer at school, and we hope other cities and states take note. After all, going to the bathroom really shouldn't be this complicated.