California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Saturday that will require all public schools in the state to provide at least one gender-neutral restroom by July 2026. The bill is part of a series of measures that aim to protect and support the LGBTQ+ community in California.
What is a gender-neutral restroom?
A gender-neutral restroom is a bathroom that is open to people of any gender identity or expression. It does not have signs or symbols that indicate a specific gender, such as male or female. Instead, it has signage that identifies the space as being accessible to all genders, such as “Restroom” or “All-Gender Restroom”.
Gender-neutral restrooms are intended to create a safer and more inclusive environment for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people, who may face harassment, discrimination, or violence when using gender-segregated restrooms. They also benefit people with disabilities who need assistance from a caregiver of a different gender, parents with children of a different gender, and anyone who prefers more privacy and comfort.
Why is California requiring gender-neutral restrooms in schools?
According to the bill’s author, State Senator Josh Newman, the new law is “only fair that everybody has access to a restroom without fear of outing, bullying, or stigmatization.” Newman said he hopes the new law will become a model for other states to follow.
The bill was supported by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, such as Equality California and the Transgender Law Center, who praised Newsom for signing it into law. Tony Hoang, executive director of Equality California, said the governor’s action sends a “clear message” that California will protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
“California is proud to have some of the most robust laws in the nation when it comes to protecting and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, and we’re committed to the ongoing work to create safer, more inclusive spaces for all Californians,” Newsom said in a statement.
How will the new law be implemented?
The new law applies to all public schools in California, including elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as charter schools and county offices of education. It requires each school to have at least one gender-neutral restroom on campus by July 1, 2026. The restroom must be available for use during school hours and during school functions when students are present.
The law allows for the temporary closure of any gender-neutral restroom only if there is a documented student safety concern, an immediate threat to student safety, or for the restroom to be repaired. The law also requires each school to designate a staff member to serve as a point of contact to ensure the restroom is compliant with state law.
The law does not mandate that all restrooms in schools be gender-neutral. It also does not prohibit students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity or expression.
How does California compare with other states on this issue?
California is the first state in the nation to require gender-neutral restrooms in all public schools by law. However, some cities and school districts in other states have already adopted similar policies or practices voluntarily.
For example, New York City public schools have been required to provide at least one gender-neutral restroom in each building since 2016. Washington D.C. public schools have also implemented a policy that allows students to use restrooms that match their gender identity or expression since 2015.
On the other hand, some states have enacted or attempted to enact laws that restrict the access of transgender students to restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity or expression. For instance, North Carolina passed a controversial law in 2016 that required people to use restrooms that matched their birth certificates in public buildings, including schools. The law was later repealed after facing backlash from businesses and advocates.
In 2021, eight states — Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and North Dakota — banned transgender students from using their preferred bathrooms and facilities in K-12 schools. Florida also passed a law that made it a criminal offense for transgender people to use bathrooms that differ from their sex assigned at birth.
The issue of bathroom access has been the focus of national debate for years. In 2016, former President Barack Obama’s administration issued guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. However, the guidance was rescinded by former President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017.