Wake County schools bathroom policy under fire, only approves some transgender students’ requests

Transgender students in the Wake County School system who wish to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity must submit a request, which may or may not be approved. Those who are not allowed to use the bathroom of their choice are told that they can instead use the staff restrooms.

Two transgender teens, Hayden Riner and CJ Lewis, both 17, are working to change this system and get all transgender bathroom requests approved. The two have been best friends since Kindergarten.

CJ Lewis started an online petition on Change.org, which at time of writing has 729 signatures, when Riner was threatened with suspension from Athens Drive High School in Raleigh if he continued to use the boys’ restroom, reports The News & Observer.

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“The public school system was set in place to give every student an equal opportunity to gain a good education,” Riner told the paper. “It’s really hard to get a good education when you’re being threatened to be suspended for using the restroom.”

Riner was told to use the staff restrooms or one in the school’s library. He said that that was not a practical solution since sometimes those facilities are locked and that they are far from many of his classes, resulting in tardiness.

The petition calls on Superintendent Jim Merrill and school board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee, to make the change. Martin was interviewed by The News & Observer and he said that he feels the policy is fine the way it is.

“I would highly doubt that the board would write a bathroom policy,” Martin said. “Policy should never be narrowly focused on narrow, specific actions.”

“We all know that being an adolescent and being a high school student is hard enough,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, told the paper. “We don’t need to further subject folks who are subject to discrimination to go through an even harder process to have a basic comfort to use the restroom during the school day.”

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This all takes place while there is a national push to expand protections for transgender students.

It has already become an issue in the North Carolina gubernatorial campaign, with Gov. Pat McCrory calling on his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, to join South Carolina in signing an amicus brief opposing the Obama Administration filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a transgender student in Virginia in a Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court case, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, over the use of school bathrooms corresponding to the student’s gender identity.

The issue was also the main focus of debate during the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance that failed to pass in Charlotte this past year. An attempt to revise the ordinance and remove transgender protections also failed to get through, as council members LaWana Mayfield and John Autry opposed any watering down of the policy.

The Charlotte City Council is set to revisit the non-discrimination ordinance in February, with a forum scheduled for Feb. 1 and a vote tentatively scheduled for Feb. 8. Most expect it to pass this time around, but history suggests there will be much heated debate centered around the transgender bathroom issue once again.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.