Why a high school student's use of a girls' restroom sparked community debate

Hillsboro High School student, Lila Perry, sparked a debate over transgender rights when she decided to use the girls bathroom at school.

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP
Lila Perry, a senior transgender student at Hillsboro High School in St. Louis, speaks with reporters as Blayke Childs, back, offers his opinion following a student walkout at the school held in both support and opposition to Lila's request to use the girls bathrooms and locker rooms rather than a faculty bathroom.

While Supreme Court rulings have brought attention to LGBT rights as of late, transgender individuals still face challenges, particularly transgender students who have to maneuver public places and bathrooms.

Lila Perry, a student at Hillsboro High School in Missouri, ignited a debate last week when she tried to use the girls bathroom at school. Lila, who came out as transgender during the middle of last school year, used the unisex faculty bathroom previously, but now says she “wants to be treated like other female students,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Lila's decision spread through the school district, prompting discussion at a recent school board meeting. Many parents argued that Lila was receiving special rights because of her transgender identification, and as a result some students protested by electing to leave campus Monday. Lila was kept in the principal’s office during the protest, as school administrators worried about her safety. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Students and parents interviewed after the walkout were overwhelmingly in support of keeping Lila, 17, out of the school facilities for girls.”

School officials sided with Lila. "We will promote tolerance and acceptance of all students that attend our district while not tolerating bullying/harassing behaviors of any type in any form," wrote Hillsboro High School Superintendent Aaron D. Cornman in a statement. The statement went on to clarify that the district accepts all students no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

According to the 2012 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly 80 percent of transgender individuals say they have been harassed.

“In school and beyond, social life for those who express a transgender identity or exhibit “gender nonconforming” behavior can be a daily ordeal,” reported Harry Bruinius of The Christian Science Monitor

While Lila didn’t disclose outright harassment, she says that although school administrators allow her to use the girls facilities, she “rarely uses the bathroom now while at school” and that she also “dropped out of her physical education class because there is little supervision.”

Ultimately, the school board’s support of Lila maintains that transgender rights must be upheld, and echoes private and federal moves to provide for transgenders.

Roughly 2/3 of the largest companies in the United States offer specific protections for transgender people, Mr. Bruinius reported. President Obama also took a public stand on the issue in early April when the White House opened its first gender-neutral bathroom.

This is a “symbolic step by the Obama administration to raise awareness of issues within the LGBT community,” the Monitor’s Husna Haq reported following the White House announcement. “It may signal a trend toward more gender-neutral restrooms in facilities across the country.”

Gender-neutral restrooms in schools could quell some of the uncertainties parents raise, but in Lila's case, acceptance, not neutralization is what she wants. "I didn't want to be in something gender-neutral," she said, referring to the faculty bathroom. "I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom."​

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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