US primary school does away with gendered bathrooms

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A primary school in California has become one of the first in the country to phase out gendered bathrooms, a move in line with a national trend to recognise the needs of transgender people.

The principal at Miraloma Elementary School in San Francisco said the decision to do away with separate bathrooms for boys and girls was in part to acknowledge about eight gender non-conforming students.

"Not only do we want all of our students to feel safe... we want them to understand systematic equality for everyone," Sam Bass said in a statement.

"We are teaching them a valuable lesson."

The move comes as schools and universities across the country grapple with how to deal with transgender students, an issue recently cast into the spotlight by Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian and reality TV star formerly known as Bruce Jenner.

Though many schools in the United States have made gender-neutral bathrooms available, few have done away with separate facilities for boys and girls and the subject remains fraught with controversy.

About 150 students walked out of class in a small Missouri town this week to protest a transgender teen using the girls' restrooms and locker rooms.

Several members of the school board in Hillsboro, where the school is located, also resigned after the controversy erupted, with one citing philosophical differences.

Bass, the principal at Miraloma, said his school opted for gender-neutral bathrooms rather than separate facilities because it was the right thing to do.

"Some elementary schools in the district have created one space for a student on the gender spectrum to use," he said.

"We are the first elementary school in the district to say that's not good enough.

"All of our students should have full, equal, safe, comfortable access to facilities."

The measure concerns kindergarten and first-grade classes this year while restrooms for older children will be phased in over the next few years.

Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBT rights, welcomed the decision saying it would benefit all students, regardless of their gender.

"Gender-neutral bathrooms make a lot of sense because instead of having people wait in line, everyone feels comfortable using the bathroom," Gill told AFP.

"It's increased privacy for everyone."