After Mat-Su bathroom ban, community fundraises for all-gender high school restroom

Morgan Clemmer is a junior at Colony High School and identifies as non-binary. They circulated a petition among students at their school calling for an all-gender restroom on campus. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Clemmer)

Community members in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are fundraising for an all-gender restroom at Colony High School in Palmer.

The effort comes after the borough school board voted last month to ban transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Under the school district’s current policy, transgender students have two bathroom options. One is the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth. The other is a single-stall restroom, which in most schools is in the nurse’s office.

“But that’s problematic because there’s only one of those, and there are a number of kids that may want to use it,” said Teresa Clemmer, a parent in the district. “Also, it’s meant for kids visiting the nurse who are sick.”

Clemmer’s teen, Morgan, is a junior at Colony High School and identifies as non-binary.

“Morgan has reported that it’s embarrassing and uncomfortable to have to ask permission from the nurse to use the bathroom every time and to announce their presence there,” Clemmer said.

To protect trans students from having to “out” themselves at the nurse’s office, Morgan came up with an idea: turn one of the school’s boys’ or girls’ restrooms into an all-gender restroom. Clemmer started a GoFundMe page to help cover construction costs associated with privacy improvements, like making all stalls floor-to-ceiling.

So far, 24 donors have given more than $2,300. Clemmer estimates that the project would cost up to $5,000. Even if they reach that goal, the school board would have to approve the donation and the project. Clemmer thinks it’s consistent with the board’s intent.

“It’s creating bathrooms for kids who would feel comfortable sharing bathrooms with kids of different gender backgrounds to share bathrooms with each other, perhaps with privacy enhancements to make it even more private,” she said.

When the school board voted last month to temporarily suspend its previous policy, discomfort and concern for girls’ safety were cited as main reasons.

“This is not an issue of transphobia, this is not an issue of name-calling, fear, or lack of sympathy for those who are uncomfortable in their own skin,” parent Nicole Smith said at the Sept. 7 meeting. “This is about telling girls and women that they have the power and right to stand up for themselves, their boundaries and their bodies.”

parents address Matanuska school district
Dozens of parents and other community members spoke in favor of suspending a Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District policy allowing transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Screenshot of MSBSD livestream.)

Next week, the board will decide whether to make that change more permanent by adopting a new bathroom use policy based exclusively on gender assigned at birth. School board president Ryan Ponder, who helped create the new policy, did not respond to an interview request for this story.

It’s unclear how many other districts in the state have similar policies in place, but in the Anchorage School District, transgender students and their parents discuss restroom and locker room use with their school’s principal. Similarly, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District’s policy allows transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity with the approval of the principal. 

“In all instances, the school administrator makes the decisions about alternative restroom use governed by judgment concerning the safety and best interests of the student in question,” the FNSB School District’s policy reads.

Vincent Feuilles is a parent in Wasilla, and he’s transgender. He said the concern about cisgender girls’ safety overlooks the risk of sexual violence transgender kids also face.

“Why can’t both be important?” he asked. “We all recognize that cisgender women are at risk for sexual assault. The statistics on it are there, you can’t argue with that. But the statistics are just as bad – and worse – when we’re looking at trans youth and the transgender community in general.”

Transgender youth are more likely to experience sexual violence than their cisgender peers, according to a 2017 study by the CDC.

That risk goes up when trans students have to use the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Feuilles said safety concerns for trans kids aren’t getting talked about at school board meetings.

“Every time someone says, ‘We have to protect the girls,’ you’re saying you don’t recognize a trans girl as a girl,” he said. “By protecting trans youth, we are protecting girls, because trans girls are girls. Trans boys are boys.”

Feuilles said an all-gender restroom could be a temporary solution at Colony High School, but it’s not ideal. He’d like the district to reinstate its original policy.

According to that policy, a student is considered transgender if “he or she consistently asserts a gender identity or expression different from the gender assigned at birth. This involves more than a casual declaration of gender identity or expression, but does not necessarily require a medical diagnosis.”

Feuilles said that policy protected both cisgender girls and transgender girls.

“In the policy itself, it is actually stating, this isn’t someone who just shows up today and says, ‘Oh hey, I want to be a girl,’ and automatically gets access to girls’ spaces,” Feuilles said.

The policy also outlined a series of meetings with school administrators, guidance counselors, school nurses and others to develop a plan for that student’s needs.

The federal Department of Education has proposed changes to Title IX to strengthen protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If those changes are finalized, the district may have to allow trans students to use bathrooms that match their identity, or risk losing federal funds.

RELATED: Opponents push back against Mat-Su school district bathroom policy

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