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Transgender Vermont teen wants genderless bathrooms

By WILSON RING, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A transgender teenager is lending his voice to a movement in Vermont to require the state's middle and high schools to offer genderless bathrooms.

Kyle Giard-Chase, 16, asked the Vermont Human Rights Commission on Thursday to endorse the effort. He said that before he came out last year as transgendered, he was a three-sport athlete and the co-captain of the field hockey team, a girls' sport, at South Burlington High School.

At an away game, he said he was verbally harassed and threatened by the members of the host school's football team for using the girls' restroom.

"The harassment only stopped when I was reduced to tears and told them I was in fact a female," said Kyle, now a senior.

But Kyle said it wasn't the harassment that affected him the most.

"It was the fear and apprehension of possibly having to use the bathroom during the school day that caused me the most harm," he said. "By eighth grade I had almost made a game out of waiting for the end of the day so I could use the bathroom at my own home."

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be as simple as what are now considered handicapped accessible bathrooms that are in a single room, he said.

The commission expressed some sympathy toward the plight of young people whose struggles with gender identity make them uncomfortable using gender-specific bathrooms, but it didn't take any action.

Joseph Benning, chairman of the commission's board, told Kyle he should prepare to deal with resistance from school officials who wouldn't have the resources to change school bathrooms.

"You've begun the process by opening up doors even to us, who never would have envisioned this being a problem at all," Benning. "Once you start on that path, however, you are going to run into opposition. As you go down the road you need to be prepared for it."

No opponents of the idea attended the meeting, although Benning said they would be welcomed at future meetings.

Kyle is working with the Burlington-based group Outright Vermont, a social service organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.

"The hope is that this is the first statewide gender-neutral bathroom campaign in the country," said Outright Executive Director Christopher Neff. "Vermont is a leader. This is another opportunity to again be the first in the nation and say we are going to make sure that all of our students, no matter who they are, are safe and protected."

A Vermont Department of Education spokesman couldn't find anyone to answer questions about the issue on Thursday.

Vermont was the first state in the country that allowed same sex couples to form civil unions and earlier this year the Legislature approved same-sex marriage. State law also includes the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.

In a separate statement given to the board, Kyle said that he did not feel safe in gender-specific bathrooms. Throughout middle school he said he would "hold it" to avoid being harmed by others.

"This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.

He said South Burlington High School has a number of unisex bathrooms and his feelings of "fear and apprehension" dissolved.

Neff told the board the process was just beginning and they hoped the board would take a stand on the issue that young people need to feel comfortable when they are in school.

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