Jorge Rivas/Fusion

When students walk into the Santee Education Complex in South L.A. Friday morning, they’ll be stepping into the first public school in the city with a gender-neutral restroom.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is opening what school officials believe is the first multi-stall gender-neutral restroom in the state. There are other schools in the state with single-stall gender-neutral restrooms, but the Santee restroom, with 15 stalls open to students of any gender, may be unprecedented in the state.

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The new restroom at the high school with 2,160 students isn’t exactly new. The signage for a girls’ restrooms was removed and replaced with a new sign that reads “all-gender restroom.”

Students from the Santee Education Complex remove the previous gender marker before adding the new all-gender sign.
Jorge Rivas/Fusion

Santee Principal Martin Gomez said he approved proposals to open a gender-neutral restroom after students led a three-month campaign urging administrators to convert the girls’ restroom into an all-gender restroom. The students collected 700 signatures from fellow schoolmates and teachers, posted campaign flyers around the schools, and last month held a protest in front of the campus.

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“This is 100% student driven,” said Principal Gomez at the unveiling of the restroom on Thursday afternoon. Gomez said the students were “the real heroes of the day.”

“They talked to students, they talked to our parents, they talked to teachers, and they developed a safety plan to ensure all students feel safe on campus,” said Principal Gomez.

Members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance decided to launch the campaign after a school janitor blocked a transgender 11th-grade student from entering one of the school’s restrooms.

“At the beginning I didn’t think it was real. Even today, I’m still speechless,” said Alonzo Hernandez, 16, the transgender student who was blocked from entering the restroom.

Alonzo Hernandez, 16, stands inside the Los Angeles Unified School District's first all-gender restroom.
Jorge Rivas/Fusion

The students at Santee are aware that all-gender restrooms are a controversial topic at the moment. Several students carried banner signs to the unveiling of the restroom that read “we made history today.”

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School administrators hopes more students will succeed if they’re more comfortable at school and don’t have to worry about which restroom they have to use.

“This valuable experience allowed [the students] to develop leadership skills that will prepare them for college and career,” said Santee Principal Gomez. About 93% of the student body is Latino, with African American students making up around 6% of students. School records show all of them come from economically disadvantaged families, and less than half the students (48%) graduate within four years, compared to the district average of 64% of students who complete high school in four years.

The high school announced the opening of the gender-neutral restroom during a time when legislators in two dozen states are considering banning transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity. In North Carolina last month, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law that bans transgender students from using restrooms and other facilities that match with their gender identity. Kansas is the latest state to introduce similar legislation.

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Republican presidential frontrunner Ted Cruz has called the bathroom bills “perfectly reasonable” and referred to policies that allow trans students to use facilities that match their gender as “lunacy.”

“I would tell these governors to put themselves in a transgender person’s shoes and consider how they would feel,” said Hernandez, the trans junior at Santee.

“These governors can't be stubborn or selfish and not consider the trouble trans people can experience when they go to the bathroom. I would ask them to imagine if they would support these same laws if their daughter or son was transgender,” said Hernandez.