Several members of the Wilson High School aquatics community are expressing concern over a plan to include gender neutral locker rooms as part of a design for the school’s new $23 million pool, expected to break ground this summer.
The design is planned to be repeated throughout the district’s comprehensive high schools, most of which currently have outdated indoor pools.
Rather than traditional separate lockers for boys and girls, the new facilities will have individual showers and changing rooms, as opposed to the communal open areas featured in the district’s existing pools. There will also be two open-space team rooms for water polo and swim teams to use.
Full plans and designs for the aquatic center can be viewed here.
LBUSD spokesperson Evelyn Somoza said that the decision about the locker room was based on focus groups conducted with students.
“In focus groups, LBUSD students consistently described feeling uncomfortable in the communal showers and open changing areas found in traditional locker rooms—regardless of the student’s gender identity and expression or physical ability,” she said. “The new design addresses that concern.”
Somoza noted that the district’s decision to build “inclusive facilities” aligns with the district’s equity and inclusivity values, and that the design was put together with input from “students, staff and physical education and aquatics coaches from our schools.”
But parents and coaches are taking issue with the idea of one facility having both boys’ and girls’ athletes in it at the same time, especially with more than 50 closed-door changing and shower rooms inside.
Robert Hamilton is the father of a nationally-ranked youth swimmer at Wilson, and spoke out against the design at this week’s LBUSD Board of Education meeting.
“As a father of a 15 year-old sophomore girl, I absolutely am against it,” he said. “It takes one kid to do something stupid—you know someone will. Take a picture, post something online…I’m asking you to do the right thing, not the politically correct thing.”
Tracy Meyers, a Wilson alum and former swimmer who said she works in state enforcement on architectural standard of care, raised many of the same issues.
“It’s so important for everyone to be comfortable,” she said. “We are a world class swimming city and these designs will be in our community for decades. It’s important to get them right.”
Katie Rowe, an assistant coach with the Wilson swim team and a decorated alum of the school, penned a lengthy email that was widely circulated in the city’s aquatic community last week in advance of the school board meeting, raising issues ranging from privacy, to increased liability for the district with male and female coaches now supervising locker areas with boys and girls present, to the logistics of there not being enough individual stalls to host major league swim meets (where hundreds of swimmers can participate on a given day).
The district has been including gender-neutral bathroom facilities in new builds for the last few years, including Keller and Hamilton middle schools. Information from the district around inclusive facilities said “all future ground-up construction at the District’s secondary schools will contain gender-inclusive facilities.”
A common request among parents who’ve commented on social media is for a third gender neutral locker area to exist alongside traditional boys and girls facilities. According to the district, separating those facilities is seen as potentially stigmatizing.
“Single-occupancy, all-gender restrooms can magnify the potential for isolation for gender-diverse students and separate them into an ‘other’ category,” reads the response.
Somoza emphasized that spectators at swim meets will not have access to the locker rooms, but will use outward-facing restrooms separate from the locker facility, and that athletes will have more privacy than before because of the individual stalls.
“Students will never need to change in common areas,” she said.
The aquatic plan has not yet been approved, as the district’s facilities team is still in the bidding process; this week’s board vote only involved the material for the shell used in the actual pool itself.
“Formal approval of Wilson’s locker room will occur in the coming months, when the agreement for the selected construction contractor goes to the Board for approval,” said Somoza.