High school students launch nationwide campaign for gender neutral bathrooms in schools
Auckland’s North Shore’s Albany Senior High School has almost finished the construction of their gender neutral bathrooms. The brains behind the project? A group of students who successfully campaigned their school’s leadership to make it happen.
We spoke to the team behind the campaign, consisting of Maggie Ross (they/she/he), Asher Shah (they/xe), Brianna Outshoorn (she/her), Ashley Nealon (she/her) and Sophie Rear (she/her), about how the success with their own school is just the beginning, and how they are now leading a petition to government to make the construction of gender neutral bathrooms in schools mandatory and government-funded in all schools nationwide.
“We started this project in 2021 through a programme we do at our school called Impact Project, where we’re supposed to make a project that benefits the community,” Maggie told us.
“Our original goal was just getting gender neutral bathrooms at our school. And so we started doing research, and as we dug deeper on the Internet, we discovered how much of an issue the lack of gender neutral bathrooms is nationwide. So we decided to switch up our plan and try to focus on a country-wide scale.”
For Asher, who identifies as nonbinary, not having gender neutral bathrooms at school has had a massive impact on their physical and mental health.
“It wasn't an issue that I had really noticed until I started being open and confident with my identity. I started to notice that I wasn't comfortable using bathrooms in public spaces, including at school. So I started drinking less water and avoiding any liquids that could make me end up needing to use the bathroom. And that started to take a toll on my health because I ended up dehydrated and not taking care of myself properly.”
Fortunately, due to their Impact Project kaupapa, Asher and students like them will soon be able to use gender neutral bathrooms at Albany Senior High, sending a strong message of inclusivity to the entire school population.
“It’s really nice because I can start taking care of myself again and being comfortable with something as basic as going to the bathroom,” says Asher. “And it's also good to help younger, not necessarily quite as open or out trans and gender diverse kids. It shows that our school and our community values them and sees them and cares about their issues, and it helps us create a safe space.”
However, the team weren’t content to make this change just at their school alone - they wanted to see it done in every school across the country.
“Our final goal is to make gender neutral bathrooms mandatory in all schools in New Zealand and for the Ministry of Education or the Government to provide funding for the construction of these bathrooms,” says Asher.
“We're a very lucky school that has a supportive senior leadership team and good funding, but there are a lot of schools in New Zealand that don't have the same privileges that we do, and so it's our responsibility to stand up and fight for schools all across the country that can’t afford to construct their own gender neutral bathrooms.”
The students are working closely with rainbow youth organisation InsideOUT on their campaign, who are helping them issue press releases and make in-roads in Parliament. Their petition to Parliament closes on the 23 June 2022 - you can read and sign the petition here.
Ultimately, they are keen to stress that it isn’t just the physical bathrooms that are important - it’s the conversation they generate.
“I think it makes gender and gender diversity a less taboo topic. It gives us the opportunity to open up the conversation and bring it to light for people who might not have been exposed to the LGBTQIA+ community, through their home life or through their previous schools. It's giving us the opportunity to educate people and just be more open and make this a more known topic.”