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Missoula high-schoolers "just want a bathroom"

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Gracie Kushner has short blonde hair and a stocky build. She plays football. On first glance, one might not know whether the 16-year-old Hellgate High School sophomore is a girl or a boy.

"I just don't feel comfortable in either gender role," explains Kushner, who considers herself "gender queer," or somewhere in between traditional notions of masculine and feminine.

Because of the way she looks, Kushner has a hard time in public restrooms. Women there get very uncomfortable, she says. "I get stared at hardcore."

Kushner says the problem is especially acute in school, where all of the restrooms are gender segregated. She tries to avoid them. "I wait all day," she says.

Kushner, who's president of Hellgate High's Gay-Straight Alliance, says she's not the only one who avoids the campus bathrooms. Of the roughly 25 members of Hellgate's student body that belong to the GSA, Kushner estimates that 10 of them would benefit from gender-neutral facilities.

"Nobody feels comfortable using the restroom," she says. "You should be able to pee without being harassed."

That's why the group is asking Hellgate Principal Russ Lodge to designate a gender-neutral, or unisex, restroom.

Lodge says after engaging in conversations with Kushner and other members of the GSA, he empathizes with the discomfort they may feel. "We had a discussion about how we can help solve the problem," he says. "But we haven't arrived at any resolution, yet."

Awareness of gender diversity is growing in Missoula and across the nation. That's emboldening trans and queer kids to press for institutional changes. In San Francisco, two students at George Washington High School petitioned administrators earlier in the school year to create a gender-neutral bathroom. Similarly, students in Oregon, at Oregon City High School, last week wrapped up efforts to collect the signatures of people who support such facilities there.

Kushner says for her, the issue is simple.

"We don't want to make a statement," she says. "We just want a bathroom."

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