San Jose High School to create gender-neutral locker room

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Seven years after the San Jose Unified School District promised to make accommodations for transgender and nonbinary students at all of its campuses, outraged students, parents and teachers called out San Jose High’s principal and administration at a meeting Wednesday for failing to follow through on that promise.

The high school did add a gender-neutral bathroom after the district’s pledge in 2017, but the school community says the bathroom is locked and inaccessible, and students are not provided with an alternative that feels safe. As a result, some students say they won’t use a bathroom all day.

Principal Jeanette Harding said during the meeting that the school would set aside space or funding to create additional gender-neutral spaces, including a changing area, but parents said it shouldn’t have gotten to this point.

“It is a disgrace that (students) had to show up for this. … The fact that (the students) had to spend the last half hour brainstorming this is embarrassing,” said nonbinary parent Eli Dinh at the high school’s site council meeting Wednesday night. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there are answers for all of this, and there are actually people higher up in the district who are supposed to have trained you on this. This should not have even been an issue.”

Public schools across California will be required to have gender-neutral bathrooms as early as July 2026, thanks to Senate Bill 760, which passed in September. But the problems at San Jose High demonstrate that, despite good intentions, trans and nonbinary students continue to struggle to feel welcome and have their own safe spaces on school campuses.

The discussion around gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms at the high school began after a transgender student’s recent negative experience with changing for physical education class caused them to leave the high school just two weeks after starting.

The student said they were told they could change in their preferred gender’s locker room. When they expressed their discomfort, they said they were given the option of changing in a utility room or the nurse’s bathroom.

But miscommunication and a lack of clear procedures regarding nonbinary bathrooms and changing areas led to the student feeling alienated and unwelcome.

“The student was very happy to be here and wanted specifically to go to public school and participate in PE. They were excited,” said high school social science teacher Craig Clouden. “Then, when it all went down, they said, ‘Public school’s not for me.’ It was sad.”

San Jose High School social science teacher Craig Clouden, center, speaks during a school site council meeting on Wednesday, March,27, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose High School social science teacher Craig Clouden, center, speaks during a school site council meeting on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Several other students spoke at the meeting about their experiences, saying the school’s lack of nonbinary bathrooms and changing spaces made them feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Jax Ramirez transferred from a school in Modesto to San Jose High School as a junior. He said he was shocked by how unwelcomed he felt and still has teachers who refuse to use his preferred pronouns and name.

“When I arrived here, I felt like the school was so backwards,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t expect it. San Jose is a city, and I thought a city would be more knowledgeable.”

Cam Avila, a sophomore at the high school who goes by they/them pronouns, said they don’t feel unsafe at school, but that doesn’t mean they feel comfortable. Avila said they and several other students feel uncomfortable changing in the male or female locker rooms.

“I wear my PE clothes to school, and I just take off layers,” Avila said.

San Jose High School sophomore and the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club at the school, Cam Avila, 15, speaks during a school site council meeting on Wednesday, March,27, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose High School sophomore and the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club at the school, Cam Avila, 15, speaks during a school site council meeting on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Ramirez said he had no idea the campus had a gender-neutral bathroom. High school senior Khris Torres (he/they) said he also didn’t know about the bathroom until his senior year, and it was only open for a month before the school closed it after too many students were using it. Torres said he tries to wait until he gets home to use the bathroom.

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