An Icelandic elementary school has removed gender signs from its bathrooms in an effort to become “gender neutral”. The principal thinks that other schools should do the same.
“One simply has to be conscious about the fact that we are not all the same and everybody has the right to be as they are; That everybody should be able to be themselves. And since there are currently children attending the school who are gender-fluid or trans, it’s not up to us, the school, to force them or anybody else into a pre-designed form,” says Sigurbjörg Róbertsdóttir, principal of Reykjanesbær’s elementary school, Akurskóli, where school officials have had gender signs removed from the school’s restrooms.
Sigurbjörg says that having the gender signs removed was a fairly simple procedure. “Seeing that we don’t have the typical large booth-setup in our school. The restrooms are more like the ones you would find at home. So there’s no need to have them signed to specific genders. Now everybody can just choose either one.”
And removing gender signs from restroom isn’t the only change the school has brought about this year. It has also changed one of the instructions regarding swimming lessons, in a memo that is sent home to parents. Instead of the typical phrasing of “girls should wear swimsuits and boys should wear swimtrunks”, it simply states that children should wear appropriate swim-attire, without categorizing which gender should wear what.
“We don’t see anything wrong with girls wearing trunks at the swimming pool, if they want to, or boys wearing a swimsuit. The kids can simply choose which one to use.”
According to Sigurbjörg these steps were taken by school officials, in an effort to make Akurskóli “a gender-neutral school”. And the reaction, she adds, has been wonderful. “We’ve only received positive responses from the parents and I’ve mostly just felt gratitude and praise from the staff, who we must remember are also parents. Parents who have children who vary, so they appreciate these measures.”
“…it’s not up to us, the school, to force them (the children) into a pre-designed form.”
But what about the kids, what do they think?
“The kids hardly notice this and the ones who do think it’s no big deal,” she replies. “Children are way more tolerant then we give them credit for. When they grow up with different kinds of people they learn to recognize and accept things. I think the kids use whatever bathroom they find convenient and don’t give it much thought at all.”
The procedure itself wasn’t explained specifically to the children. However the school asked Samtökin ’78, the national queer organization, to come and do a lecture on prejudice. “Two individuals from Samtökin visited every single class with the appropriate information. They also spoke to our staff. It was an amazing lecture. The sort of education we aim to have at least yearly and the teachers also bring up the subject on a regular basis.”
Asked if Akurskóli is the only school in Iceland that is aiming at becoming gender-neutral, Sigurbjörg says that she doesn’t know. “I’m not sure. I have talked to other principals in the area and they haven’t taken similar steps. But I find it hard to believe this is the only school in Iceland that has students who are gender fluid or trans,” she says and adds that for that reason other schools should follow suit.
“Yes, I think that all schools should tend to these matters. Because although we have individuals at school who are very open about these matters, we also have many children experiencing all kinds of things that we know nothing about and who won’t open up until they have grown up. We have to reach out to them and try to make as many children feel good at school.”