The GSA leads the Day of Silence Campaign at AHS and participates in many initiatives to further connections between LGBTQ students and the entire AHS community. One significant change coming soon to AHS that the GSA has initiated is the creation of gender neutral bathrooms.
Early in 2016, North Carolina’s legislature passed a bill that would not require facilities to provide gender neutral bathrooms, showing that there is still a major divide in this country about the rights of LGBTQ people.
This triggered a powerful backlash from companies like PayPal, Apple, and Disney who are avoiding ventures that would economically benefit North Carolina. Numerous celebrities have also weighted in and the NCAA is reconsidering holding sports events in the state. This kind of corporate activism is relatively rare and shows that companies are willing to use economic incentive to advocate for change. The popular sentiment even among many in North Carolina is that the law should be reconsidered but it’s yet to be seen if all of this pressure will have an impact on politicians at the government level. This controversy proves that although in recent years many strides have been made in advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community including the federal ruling legalizing gay marriage, there is still a lack of consensus regarding the rights of LGBTQ people.
Ms. Mitchell, a teacher at AHS and leader of the AHS Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club, shared her views of the impact of clubs like the GSA, especially in the face of the North Carolina legislation.
Ms. Mitchell says that the Gay Straight Alliance at AHS “provides a safe space for students, where they can share a different level of relations. It provides a strong support structure and also has many educational aspects.” Though GSA members gain this unique perspective, she believes that there are many things regarding the LGBTQ community that everyone should be aware of. Her message to all students is “Don’t assume that everyone is straight or gender conforming. Our culture is very centered on a heterosexual image, even in things like sex education. It’s important that we’re all aware that LGBTQ students are a part of our community as well.”
Regarding the North Carolina legislation that doesn’t require unisex bathrooms Ms. Mitchell said, “It’s a horrible law that puts a minority of the population in unsafe situations. It forces exposure which can put people in a very dangerous position by forcing them to confirm to their gender at birth.” Following the publicity the law got and the outcry of the LGBTQ community against it, numerous large corporations including PayPal, Apple, and the NCAA denounced the North Carolina lawmakers and the law as discriminatory and many took actions that would fiscally hurt North Carolina to promote a public outcry to change the law. Ms. Mitchell says “There has been phenomenal support by corporations and people. Using the threat of economic loss will ‘hit them where it hurts’ so to speak. Just hearing well known people like Bruce Springsteen and companies like PayPal speaking out against this law is really inspiring. Trying to affect the North Carolina population with economic and social pressure is an interesting tactic”.
Molly Rocca, a member of the GSA, shared what she believes the club brings to the AHS Community. She says that “I’m a fan of GSA; I’ve been a member for three and a half years and although there is not huge prejudice at AHS or in this region, it’s still nice for LGBTQ students to have a safe space and an active GSA to share and connect with each other.” Rocca said she’d love to see “gender neutral bathrooms, more awareness of LGBTQ issues and more events like the day of silence” at AHS.
Luckily, at least one of Rocca’s wishes will be coming true; by the fall of 2016, AHS will have several gender neutral bathrooms throughout the school. These gender neutral bathrooms will be those that were previously single-stalled staff bathrooms. The only changes that need to be made by the janitorial staff will be a removal of locks and new signage.
The GSA was able to start this conversation about gender neutral bathrooms through communication with AHS administration. Principal Conrad is a huge supporter of gender neutral bathrooms, and he even oversaw his previous school’s incorporation of them. When asked about his prior experience with gender neutral bathrooms, Mr. Conrad said that, “It actually went really well, and it was a very smooth transition from what had been male and female staff bathrooms to gender neutral anybody bathrooms, for students or staff, and then a gender neutral staff bathroom.”
The largely positive atmosphere of AHS regarding gender equality and efforts to make LGBTQ students feel comfortable has also largely contributed to the successful strides made by the GSA. When asked about the possibility of resistance to the gender neutral bathrooms, Mr. Conrad revealed that, “Everybody’s been very supportive of the idea because we know how important it is to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.”
If any students or parents have any concerns regarding the introduction of gender neutral bathrooms, Mr. Conrad encourages them to contact the administration so that they may help all members of the AHS community understand the importance and necessity of these measures.
When further elaborating on the overall importance of the GSA, Ms. Mitchell said, “There’s such a difference now since when I was in school 10-15 years ago. In a way we’ve reached a new normal, students openly discuss the issues of the LGBTQ community. I believe safe access to bathrooms as a right is important and that eventually the tie will turn. The support anti-discrimination advocates have gotten from corporations and influential people is heartening and gives hope for a better future.”
By Nick Gilpin