Racist vandalism in the gender-neutral bathrooms raises concerns


Nathaniel Joffe

A recently converted gender-neutral bathroom in the 700s wing has created a range of concerns about racism and cleanliness.

Last school year, Los Altos High School installed three new gender-neutral bathrooms. Since the installation, one of those bathrooms, a converted men’s bathroom in the 700s wing, has been subject to a host of concerns about cleanliness and safety. 

The bathroom’s stall dividers and doors include a range of engraved comments and drawings. In one stall, a drawing of a swastika is visible, as well as other overtly racist statements that The Talon has chosen not to reprint. Repetitive phrases and signatures plaster the bathroom tiles, suggesting a graffiti-like culture of tagging. On an unremoved urinal divider, a fading list of “rules of the bathroom” enumerates an unofficial code of conduct. Most rules are no longer visible, except for rule two: “Don’t be a snitch.” 

As soon as administration and the custodial staff at LAHS are notified of vandalism, the targeted facility is shut down and the instance of vandalism is removed to the best of their ability. The custodial staff also works with teachers to identify potential trends in handwriting and determine possible culprits, according to custodian David Chavez. 

“We try to remove all instances of vandalism,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said. “But, when the phrases are scratched into the wall, all we can do is paint over them. And they’re not really gone.”

In addition to the direct racism, there are deeper undertones of white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology throughout the bathroom. One engraving features a crudely-drawn image of what appears to be the hammer of Thor, the Norse mythological god, above the text “Hail Odin & Thor.” While this note may initially evoke Marvel more than the alt-right, its invocation of ancient Norse culture represents a model for an all-white society. Such symbols have been recognized as “racist dog-whistles,” or slogans used within white supremacist movements to communicate in-group support without using outwardly discriminatory language.

“That’s not just writing the N-word,” Gender & Sexuality Awareness President senior Bella Sturiale said in reference to the dog-whistles. “They know exactly what they’re doing.”

The environment of the 700s gender-neutral bathroom has alienated many gender non-conforming students, who feel that the space is unclean and unsafe for them to use.

“The school had ripped up the urinals and so there were exposed pipes, and it looked like there was water on the ground too,” an anonymous junior said. “It looked really dirty, unclean and unkempt — not something I’d want to be using.”

Sophomore Benji Bengston used the bathroom exclusively during their freshman year, feeling that it was the safest bathroom on campus. However, a string of events led them to stop using the facility. In one instance, they recalled a situation in which they were blocked from using the bathroom by multiple students guarding the door, creating an unsafe atmosphere. 

The bathroom’s racist engravings are also threatening to queer students, who view racism and queerphobia as intertwined.

“The rampant hatred of LGBTQ+ people is often rooted in racism and white supremacy,” Bella said. “It’s not like somebody who’s racist is going to happen to support gay people.”

The conversion of the men’s bathroom to a gender-neutral bathroom last year was rushed, according to Rosenberg. 

“I don’t think [the conversion of the bathroom] did a good enough job of providing the space for students who want to use a restroom that isn’t gendered,” Rosenberg said. “And it’s stayed the same for funding reasons.”

While the Mountain View–Los Altos School District does plan on funding a renovation of the bathroom, given that it’s one of the oldest facilities on campus, more recent construction of gender-neutral facilities at LAHS have impacted the urgency of such a renovation. 

“The new construction doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get this done as soon as possible,” Rosenberg said. “But, it’s impacting the District’s decision on [timeliness] because [the gender-neutral bathrooms in the 700s wing] are still used. Having to shut them down during the school year creates a burden.”

Rosenberg cited the two gender-neutral bathrooms in the 600s wing for students who prefer a cleaner, safer alternative to the gender-neutral bathroom in the 700s wing, and explained that the bathrooms in the new administrative buildings may also be non-gendered. 

The gender-neutral bathrooms in the 600s wing are private spaces, with doors that can lock for students’ safety. They are located at the front of the 600s buildings and near the side, perpendicular to the pool gate. 

For more information on creating a specialized gender support plan, contact Assistant Principal Nicolas Betancur at [email protected].