Removing gender from bathroom hall passes—given the politicization of transgender bathrooms—is one step an Alaska high school principal says she took to make her students more comfortable.
Mary Fulp was named Alaska’s principal of the year and then promoted from the top post at a middle school to Colony High School just as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District north of Anchorage voted to restrict students from using bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity.
The district had been allowing students to use facilities that match their gender identity but switched course when a federal judge blocked the Biden Administration’s guidance on allowing students to choose which bathrooms and locker rooms they use. After the change, Fulp felt it was her responsibility to hear the concerns of parents on both sides of the issue and gather feedback from her students, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.
“Parents wanted to know that they could trust us to be transparent and truthful with them and that we weren’t going to put their children in a situation where they would be unsafe,” Fulp says. “I have to able to say to every family that comes to us that we will honor their beliefs.”
While sticking to the board’s new policy, Fulp says she has been working to give students and staff more privacy in ways that also recognize the LGBTQ community’s needs. Her maintenance team, for example, built a series of privacy stalls in both the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms. “Everyone is allowed to feel comfortable without having to say why,” says Fulp. “Locker rooms have been a nightmare since I was in high school.”
Her students asked to have gender removed from hall passes because choosing “boys” or “girls” felt intrusive to transgender students and some of their classmates. Students now also have access to private and single-use bathrooms in the school administrative areas and elsewhere. Administrators also made an employee restroom accessible to students.
“Here’s what I told families and students: ‘Everyone should have privacy when they’re in the bathroom, and shouldn’t have to say why they want it,'” Fulp says.”We should be respected and feel safe in every location of our school. What we can do at the building level, we are doing.”
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Students have gathered more than 150 signatures on a petition urging the school’s administration to support the creation of transgender bathrooms. The petition contains links to research that has found that sex-segregated bathrooms increase anxiety, depression and isolation among transgender youth. The suicide risk increases when LGBTQ students feel excluded. The petition also aims to debunk claims that transgender bathrooms create opportunities for predatory sexual behavior.
Transgender bathrooms are also gaining support from the community. A GoFundMe campaign launched by a student has raised more than $4,700 to create transgender bathrooms at Colony High School.
Fulp says she is troubled that the gender identity issue has been divisive and hurtful in her community and that this dissension is likely making LGBTQ students feel more isolated.
“This population is hurting. There’s just a lot of brokenness in our communities right now,” she says. “I told our students that we’re not going to perpetuate patterns of hurt on campus—we have too much of that in the world. Instead, we need to be a place where every student feels safe, supported and cared for regardless of their values or current life circumstance.”