Surrey’s oldest high school is breaking new ground this week, celebrating its first-ever Pride Week, and opening a gender-neutral restroom.
Rainbow streamers have filled the Hub, and on Tuesday, students decorated colourful, tie dye T-shirts. Students and staff planned to wear them to show their LGBT support at Thursday’s official opening of the new, all-gender restroom, located on the second floor.
“When there are [U.S.] states taking a step back, it’s nice to know Tweedsmuir is taking a step forward,” said Liam Ponzini, a representative from the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. He will be cutting the ribbon May 5 alongside school principal Allan Buggie during a opening ceremony that will be followed by short, symbolic parade from the new washroom to the school’s Hub.
The single-occupant washroom makes its debut after about three years of lobbying by students.
Ponzini said its symbolic value is important. “Having this bathroom in this school is more of a symbol that you can be who you are and you don’t have to be judged or harassed.”
Grade 11 student Mackenzie Jasper, a Tweedsmuir GSA rep, said she hopes it will help put an end to discrimination before it begins.
She credited the work of the GSA and teachers for supporting the project.
“I believe this really proved to us that we may be young, but that our voices matter,” she said.
[Left, students Liam Ponzini and Mackenzie Jasper outside the new all-gender restroom – Jennifer Lang photo]
The Surrey School District’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy address rights and inclusion, but doesn’t specifically address gender-neutral washrooms. Instead, it provides the context to ensure appropriate accommodations are made in a sensitive way that respects the specific needs of the individual.
There are already about a half-dozen secondary schools in Surrey that accommodate students who request a private washroom, district spokesman Doug Strachan said. They aren’t necessarily designated with a ‘gender neutral’ sign on the door.
Lord Tweedsmuir’s has a sign denoting its all-gender status. It reads ‘Anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity or expression.’ It’s also wheelchair accessible.
“We’re really happy that students have lobbied,” said teacher Penny Turpin, explaining that they have been looking to school administration to find a way to make the gender-neutral washroom a reality.
She said principal Buggie looked to other models at other schools to see how it could be implemented.
[Below, students show off the dye left behind after their tie dyeing session earlier this week – Mackenzie Jasper photo]