Every day trans students face a difficult decision

+The+mentality+of+trans+students+as+they+decide+which+bathroom+is+best+to+use+for+their+safety+and+personal+identity.

Melanie Pena

The mentality of trans students as they decide which bathroom is best to use for their safety and personal identity.

The lunch bell has just rung, while most of the class makes their way to the cafeteria a couple of students peel off to use the bathroom before sitting down. All but one enter without hesitation. The last student stands torn between the two stalls, their eyes switching between the two stick figures that have forced them into boxes their whole lives. Unable to decide between the threat of humiliation and what they know in their hearts to be right, they walk away.

By high school, using the restroom is not something most people have to think twice about. After all, it is a basic human right, so it should not have to be. For the transgender and non-binary community, however, the restroom has never been a safe or easily accessible place. 

At an age where puberty and social awkwardness are at an all time high, school already presents a challenge in itself. For students undergoing, or who have undergone, gender transition, this hyper-awareness only becomes heightened. Having to use the restroom not only forces them to declare a gender identity, but it also forces them to do so in front of teenagers.

Cape High is home to a small but present transgender community. Sophomore Tommy Lei Garcia is one such student. 

Garcia always knew something was off, but it was not until seventh grade that he began his transitioning process. His parent had come out as trans when he was a child and it gave him the courage to not only be out, but to be candid about it.
“I am open about being trans, but I don’t want it to define me,” he said. “I would love for people to just call me cool guy instead of also saying, ‘Oh, he is the trans guy.”

 Senior Jaxon Gomilla is also an out trans student. He has transitioned from his birth sex, to his true identity as a male. 

His freshman year he was instructed to use the male restroom, which was ideal for him as it is the gender he claims, but the administration’s directive did not shield him from reality of actually doing it. Security guards still stop him on occasion not knowing he is transgender. “It’s not that I am scared, it’s that I don’t want to deal with it because it’s almost always an issue,” he said.

Being denied access to the restroom of his preference is a lingering reminder that the world does not see him as he sees himself. “It’s really defeating overall. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and then it still just doesn’t go through. It’s one more step down,” he said. 

These “step downs” are not minor inconveniences, they can severely impact both the mental and physical health of transgenders. “I don’t drink water all day to try to avoid using the restroom,” Gomilla said. The dread of being mistreated is so extreme that trans people would rather risk dehydration than bathrooms.  This is a horrifying and rather unimaginable act for anyone to have to partake in because of their gender.  

To most, these experiences appear to be unrelatable. Garcia said, “Imagine you’re very small and there are a bunch of large people around just looking at you. They look down on you like you are less than them.” 

That is why these small acts of using the restroom can feel like such a triumph, it is not about what the outside world sees, but what non-binary and trans people feel. Gomilla said, “It is a gratifying experience to say I was able to use the restroom today without being harassed and without being stopped.”

Not only is this gratifying, but it is uncommon. Harvard states that over 63% of transgender people experience discrimination on a regular basis and these issues often arise at the scene of a restroom.  As of August 2020, this year 28 trans-identifying persons were reported to have been murdered out of hate. These reports are traumatizing and debilitating for a community who already feels at risk and even if these instances are not in school the fear may follow them there. 

One student, so fed up with being blocked from the restroom, took legal action up in St John County Florida. Drew Adams sued the corresponding school district in 2017 for discrimination on the basis of sex. Two months ago he finally earned the confirmation that his actions would account for something greater, and would a landmark court win for trans students. 

On August 7th, 2020, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the promises granted under Title IX that state there can be no discrimination on the basis of sex within federal education programs, including using the restroom. 

The laws in Florida are working towards inclusivity, but that does not guarantee society will too. There is no way to ensure a mass culture shift throughout the state, but there are measures that can be taken right here at Cape High to make the trans and non-binary community feel more accepted.

The best way Garcia and Gomillia see this happening is with education. “I feel like the entire school would benefit just from going over this because it is not something that is going to stop. There is going to be more trans students,”  he said.

Principal Christian Engelhart believes Cape High can be that place where this diversity is embraced. He said, “We seek to promote a culture that is inclusive and treats everyone fairly.”

Garcia stresses that beginning education at a young age, allows students to grow up with exposure and awareness to the reality of being transgender. Instead of learning to hate differences, they can learn to celebrate them. Trans people using the restroom of their preference could no longer be seen as out of the ordinary.

More than anything though, trans persons have a plea. Garcia phrases it perfectly saying, “We should learn not to resort to violence just because people are different. I understand if you don’t agree with it and I understand maybe your religion prevents it or maybe you don’t believe in the science of it, but there’s no need for hostility. You shouldn’t kill us because we are human.”