New gender neutral locker room opens on campus

The new Bow Gym gender neutral locker room became available to students on Sept. 6 after students from the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club started petitioning for its installation in 2019. The construction began in June 2022 and finished at the start of September. The completed locker room includes eight changing stalls, a central bench, 20 lockers and two gender neutral bathrooms.
GSA Club President senior Charlie Ennis, who, in addition to being a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) LGBTQ+ Council, is also a part of the state school bathrooms ad hoc committee, has worked alongside three other students to make gender neutral spaces more accessible. “The three of us had been working together since I was in middle school on gender neutral locker rooms for Fletcher first, then I moved to Gunn and continued working on the same things,” they said.
At Gunn, they championed for new gender neutral locker rooms, as the previous one lacked space and was in less-than-ideal condition. In 2019, the students began the process of preliminary planning. A year later, they began taking action and meeting with the council and school officials. Due to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, construction to turn the Bow Gym snack bar into a gender neutral locker room began during the summer of 2022. Some physical education (P.E.) teachers—including Amy Anderson and Steve Ames—wanted a gender neutral locker room prior to this project but were unsure of what improvements students needed. “I wanted to make sure that our school has a safe space for all students to participate in P.E. and sports and that everybody feels comfortable [in],” Anderson said.
During Ennis’s freshman year, they reached out to the P.E. teachers to discuss gender neutral facilities available for student use. Afterwards, Ennis and the two other students joined the LGBTQ+ Council—a district wide council that is working to improve inclusivity in schools. The students have continued to advocate for expanding gender neutral facilities throughout the district while providing student perspective. They worked to make the locker room at Gunn a priority for the council in early 2020.
PAUSD School Board Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza is also a member of the LGBTQ+ Council who worked as a liaison between the Gunn students and the school board. Her involvement began in the fall of 2021. During the council meetings, DiBrienza sat down with the students, board bond advisory committee and others from the opera-
tions and management departments during LGBTQ+ Council meetings. “The students explained what was missing from the current situation and what they needed to feel safe and comfortable in the locker room,” she said. The operations departments and the bond committee toured the previous facilities with the students to identify and examine the issues. Despite difficulties in contacting the district, the council members were able to get the locker room approved by sending out a presentation pointing out different health code and American Disabilities Act (ADA) violations to school board members and Gunn administrators.

A student, who asked to remain anonymous, was also part of the council and involved in the new locker room’s creation. “I saw the bad positions and unsafe conditions the students around me were in,” they said. “There have been examples of dangerous conditions inside [the old] gender neutral locker rooms such as them being locked and filled with trash, [having] holes in the wall with exposed piping and lights that would frequently go out.”

Once the plan for the locker room was finalized at a district level, Assistant Principal of Facilities Leonel Argumedo became involved with the project. Argumedo worked alongside the district to identify a space to build the locker room. “We all agreed the snack bar in the Bow Gym was the ideal space because it was not utilized as much, had a restroom nearby and was big enough to provide us the space to grow,” he said.
The construction of the locker room began under the Maintenance Department’s jurisdiction, but due to the scope of the project, it was given to the Facilities Department in January of 2021 for overseeing. PAUSD Director of Facilities and Construction Eric Holm led the project by revising layouts, getting bids and facilitating construction. Holm toured the gender neutral facilities at Palo Alto High School (Paly) with the students from the LGBTQ+ committee to compare facilities. They identified elements of the locker room at Paly that could be integrated at Gunn’s respective facility. “The old gender neutral locker rooms were a quick fix that was not really a good solution,” Holm said. “There was a strong desire to make something better and a strong need to enhance the quantity of lockers because of the large number of students that have shown an interest in using them.”
Issues arose once the construction stage of the project began. “The construction was supposed to start sooner, but because of supply challenges and shortages, [we] weren’t able to get all the materials [necessary],” Argumedo said. “The project got delayed about six months.”
Freshman Socs Kaleba has been using the new gender neutral locker room since it opened. “I really like the new locker room,” they said. “[It’s] amazing and [it] has really nice lockers. I also like how the seating area has benches for people to be able to put their shoes on.”

Alumni and former GSA President Dante Morse, who was also involved in the initial planning process, emphasized the importance of creating this comfortable space for students of all gender identities. “Creating a safe space for students to feel like they can change without having to worry about being stared at or feeling out of place is really important,” he said. “This also represents a bigger change in the ways that we’re working to include queer and trans students in our school. If we’re willing to make this kind of step to make them feel more included and we’re willing to build this room, then it shows that we’re also committed to making the school a more inclusive environment.”

Morse found that changing the stereotypical discussions and environment set around the LGBTQ+ community is crucial for creating these new spaces. “The biggest part that we had to overcome, and so many other places will have to overcome, in order to build more gender neutral locker rooms, was trying to untangle all of the stigma that exists around trans and genderqueer people,” he said.
Along with the new locker room at Gunn, the council is working towards ensuring that every secondary school in Palo Alto has a
gender neutral locker room. For elementary schools, they hope each can have at least one accessible gender neutral bathroom.