Teen relates his schoolday trials in urging genderless bathrooms

By Wilson Ring
Associated Press / August 28, 2009

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MONTPELIER - A transgender teenager is lending his voice to a movement in Vermont to require the state’s middle and high schools to offer genderless bathrooms.

Kyle Giard-Chase, 16, asked the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to endorse the effort. He said that before he came out last year as transgender, he was a three-sport athlete and the cocaptain of the field hockey team, a girls’ sport, at South Burlington High School.

At an away game, he said he was verbally harassed and threatened by the host school’s football team for using the girls’ restroom.

“The harassment only stopped when I was reduced to tears and told them I was in fact a female,’’ said Kyle, now a senior.

But Kyle said it was not the harassment that affected him the most.

“It was the fear and apprehension of possibly having to use the bathroom during the school day that caused me the most harm,’’ he said. “By eighth grade I had almost made a game out of waiting for the end of the day so I could use the bathroom at my own home.’’

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be as simple as what are now considered handicapped-accessible bathrooms that are in a single room, he said.

The commission expressed some sympathy for the plight of young people whose struggles with gender identity make them uncomfortable using gender-specific bathrooms, but it did not take any action.

Joseph Benning, chairman of the commission’s board, told Giard-Chase he should prepare to deal with resistance from school officials who would not have the resources to change school bathrooms.

“You’ve begun the process by opening up doors even to us, who never would have envisioned this being a problem at all,’’ Benning. “Once you start on that path, however, you are going to run into opposition. As you go down the road, you need to be prepared for it.’’

No opponents of the idea attended the meeting, although Benning said they would be welcome at future meetings.

Giard-Chase is working with the Burlington-based group Outright Vermont, a social service organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.

“The hope is that this is the first statewide gender-neutral bathroom campaign in the country,’’ said Christopher Neff, Outright executive director.

“Vermont is a leader,’’ Neff said. “This is another opportunity to again be the first in the nation and say we are going to make sure that all of our students, no matter who they are, are safe and protected.’’

A Vermont Department of Education spokesman could not find anyone to answer questions about the issue yesterday.

Vermont was the first state in the country to allow same-sex couples to form civil unions and earlier this year the Legislature approved same-sex marriage.

State law also includes the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.

In a separate statement given to the board, Giard-Chase said that he did not feel safe in gender-specific bathrooms.

Throughout middle school, he said, he would “hold it’’ to avoid being harmed by others.

“This procedure of ‘holding it’ caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning,’’ he said.

He said South Burlington High School has a number of unisex bathrooms and his feelings of “fear and apprehension’’ dissolved.