Seattle could soon see a school named after Marsha P. Johnson, James Baldwin, Cheryl Chow or another prominent LGBTQ+ individual.
Under a new a resolution the Seattle School Board passed unanimously this Pride month to support queer youth identity, the state’s largest school district is on the hook to consider several measures: Creating a new LGBTQ+ culture and identity curriculum, include an all-genders bathroom in any new school construction projects, offer LGBTQ+ sensitivity training to staff and rename one school.
The district will also be required survey all schools and report back on how many have gender-inclusive bathrooms, and brainstorm possibilities to create new inclusive restrooms in existing buildings.
A few schools in Seattle have successfully lobbied for a centrally located gender neutral bathroom, but there is no district policy requiring existing school buildings to have one — only a directive to allow students to use the restroom of their choice. Even after an audit, said Zachary DeWolf, the Board’s president and first openly gay member, it’s hard to guarantee every school will have the space to dedicate a gender inclusive restroom.
“People assume that institutions will be good on their own,” said DeWolf, who introduced the resolution. “But unless we write it into policy, it won’t happen.”
There may be some workarounds, such as repurposing an existing staff restroom or single occupancy family restroom, he said.
The resolution draws on research that shows affirming and celebrating LGBTQ+ identity in school can help prevent the adverse experiences many students suffer as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including verbal harassment and bullying. Queer-identified youth also post higher rates of suicide and self-harm, and face discipline and criminal prosecution at higher rates. A 2015 analysis found that lesbian students face 95% higher odds of being suspended and expelled compared with their other female peers.
Any new curriculum proposed for English or social studies must include significant historic milestones such as the Compton Cafeteria riots, Stonewall Riots, the 1987 Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the contributions of prominent queer or LGBTQ+ identified people.
Conversations with local queer rights advocates and youth drove the measures in the proposal, DeWolf said. While meeting with student government leaders at Meany Middle School, he said one of the first pieces of feedback he heard was the desire for more lessons focused on LGBTQ+ movements and history.
“If we just assume everyone is feeling the same way, there is a lot of room for people to feel invisible, unseen, by curriculum,” he said.
Tyler Crone, a parent of a trans student who has worked with DeWolf on improving conditions for trans youth, said the resolution represents a significant change in awareness from just a few years ago. She had to advocate to get her child’s new legal name reflected in all of the district’s systems, and pushed for inclusive bathroom access.
“Even with the most well-intentioned faculty at the schools, we bumped into structural barriers all along the way,” said Crone, a human rights law advocate.
The real payoff for this resolution is years from now, DeWolf said, when “all these young people are engaging with queer experiences and stories.”
The resolution also reaffirms some policies and practices already in place, including the option to mark “x” gender for nonbinary students, open display of Pride flags outside district-owned buildings and the right of trans students to be referred by their preferred pronouns and to use bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender.
The Board hasn’t yet defined the deadline for the district to report back on the progress SPS has made on the resolution’s goals, but DeWolf said early fall is a target.
The school renaming would likely be a yearlong process. So far, a handful of schools have already expressed interest in a renaming, including Mercer Middle School and Stevens Elementary School, said DeWolf. Some suggestions of people to honor so far — all of whom are deceased — have included Marsha P. Johnson, a trans activist at the forefront of the Stonewall riots, and Cheryl Chow, a former Seattle School Board member and principal who came out as gay in her 60s.