When 8-year-old Eli Erlick first asked her teachers if she could use the girls' bathroom, her ears witnessed the most surprising answer she could ever imagine: "No."
"I had no idea why I couldn't do this. I didn't even know the word 'transgender.' I just knew that I was a girl," Erlick told Al Jazeera.
Since her childhood days, Erlick, now 19, identified as a female and could never decipher why others refused to treat her as one. Simple things like going to the school's bathroom became so grueling she'd have to pretend to be sick and run home to use the amenities.
Sadly, Erlick's story is not uncommon at all.
Although it's hard to measure exactly, some researchers guess that "if you're in a high school of 2,000 kids, you're probably going to have somewhere between two and four trans kids in that school at any one time." And it's definitely not a cakewalk for them.
According to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, accessing the restroom that matches their gender identity is still one of the biggest struggles that often results either in ridicule or violence.
But some people are willing to fix that ...
A San Francisco elementary school jumpstarted this school year with a groundbreaking decision to get rid of separate boys' and girls' bathrooms.
After learning that some of the students don't adhere to traditional gender norms, officials at Miraloma Elementary decided to expand the inclusive practices and convert the school's restrooms from gendered to gender-neutral.
"The decision to convert to gender neutral bathrooms was based on student need. We have students on the gender spectrum. Converting most of our bathrooms to gender neutral benefits all students of every grade level and creates a safe and supportive environment for all of our students," Sam Bass, principal of Miraloma Elementary, stated on the school's website.
For now, the school created single-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms for kindergartners and first-graders, which are located within the classroom. Principal Bass plans to spend next few years transforming bathrooms for older students, as well as building outside bathrooms with multiple stalls.
According to PTA President Ellen Schatz, although parents did have questions about Miraloma's conversion, none of them expressed discontent with the decision and were mostly interested in the logistics. It is important to note that this makes Miraloma the first elementary school in the city to make such transition.
When asked why is it important to convert all bathrooms when it only affects a handful of students, Principal Bass replies: 'It doesn't. It affects ALL students.'
'Not only do we want ALL of our students to feel safe, supported and comfortable to be who they are, we want them to understand systematic equality for everyone. We are teaching them a valuable lesson.'
According to another trans student, Tessa Thorn otherwise known as Troll Fish Prince, "coming out is a very long process" and involves many aspects. Thus, even relatively simple needs, like gender-neutral bathrooms, shouldn't be overlooked.
"Back in February, in my senior year of high school I noticed something odd. Despite a new law being put into place that required gender-neutral bathrooms, my high school didn't have one. As a nonbinary student, I knew the struggles that were faced by the community and I decided, 'hey, someone should fix this,'" Thorn told A Plus in an email.
But instead of waiting for someone to take action, Thorn took the challenge upon himself and suggested the principal remodels one of the older bathrooms since the school didn't have the budget to build a new one. In March, the new inclusive bathroom was installed (Thorn poses next to it in the photo above.).
"I didn't put that bathroom in for me, I put it in for everyone else who was too scared to ask. I knew I wasn't going to be able to use it for long, but I fought for it anyway because I cared about the future of the students at my school," he said.
Cover image: Tessa Thorn