Thursday, August 27, 2009

16 Year Old Fights for Gender-Neutral Bathrooms in Vermont Schools

Today, Kyle Giard-Chase, a sixteen year old incoming high school senior at South Burlington High School will speak before the Vermont Human Rights Commission, launching a new campaign on the importance of gender neutral bathrooms in public schools. “I was getting to school at 8:00 in the morning and feeling the urge to go to the bathroom then. I would have to wait until 4:00 PM, or suck it up and deal with the harassment. It was ridiculous. I don’t want the same thing happening to another student,” stated Giard-Chase, a transgender student himself and a Youth Representative to the Outright Vermont Board of Directors.

The new state-wide effort seeks to establish at least one gender neutral bathroom facility in each middle school and high school in Vermont by working with local Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) groups, school administrators and policy makers. Often, gender neutral bathrooms are one stall unisex facilities.

The need for accessible gender neutral bathrooms was rated as the top priority of youth attendees at Outright Vermont’s 2009 GSA Conference in Rutland in May. "The youth voted unanimously this spring and Kyle is heading up this campaign to make sure high school and middle school bathrooms are accessible and safe for all students. This is about making Vermont's great schools even better,” stated Christopher Neff, Executive Director of Outright Vermont.

This campaign will be the first of its kind in the nation to advocate for the establishment of mandatory gender neutral facilities in middle schools and high schools. Vermont is one of only 12 states and the District of Columbia that has laws barring discrimination based on gender identity.

In Vermont, according to the Department of Education's most recent Safe and Healthy Schools Incident Report (2006-2007), 48.5 percent of hazing and harassment cases were related to the victim’s sex. This can include bullying or making fun of a classmate because of feminine or masculine presentation. Outright Vermont distinguishes between sex and gender by noting that sex is related to biology while gender is how one chooses to identify themselves. The state of Vermont defines gender identity as "an individual's actual or perceived gender identity, or gender-related characteristics intrinsically related to an individual's gender or gender-identity, regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth."

Outright Vermont will include the accessibility or plan for accessible gender neutral bathrooms as one of its measures in its upcoming Safe School Report Card this October.

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