A newly-converted space inside the high school in Vermont's largest city is drawing praise from transgender and gender-nonconforming students, as well as from advocates for LGBT youth.
"It's so awesome that we finally have one," Burlington High School freshman Ezra Totten said of the school's new gender-neutral locker room.
With the installation of the gender-neutral locker room sign over the holiday break, Burlington High School became the latest in a small but growing list of Vermont schools to add one.
The step goes beyond the now-familiar gender-free restrooms.
Totten, who is a transgender male, told necn and NBC10 Boston he has skipped training runs with the cross-country team because he didn’t always feel comfortable or safe changing in the guys’ locker room.
"Oftentimes, I wasn't able to practice," Totten recalled, noting that discomfort changing came from the fact many trans men use chest-binding undergarments that require extra privacy. "I get very insecure."
The Burlington School District heard those concerns, said high school principal Noel Green.
"It's about equity," Green said Friday, showing necn and NBC10 Boston the recently-designated locker room.
Green approved the conversion of an underused referees' locker room into a space transgender or gender non-conforming teens can use. It has a lockable area and a single shower.
"I think many schools are making movement toward it now," Green said in response to a question about whether such locker rooms could become more commonplace in coming years.
"We absolutely applaud them," said Dana Kaplan, the executive director of Outright Vermont, which works to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for LGBT and questioning youth.
Kaplan said gender-free locker rooms could mean a higher participation rate in after-school activities, which can help turn around feelings of isolationism in the groups Outright serves.
"The best prevention of suicide and self-harm is your internal sense of belonging," Kaplan said. "What more powerful place to belong than being a part of a team? And in order to have access to that team, you have to have a place to be able to go to change."
Totten now has that place, and said he hopes more communities will see how a simple designation to a facility can have a profound meaning to a student’s sense of safety and inclusion.
"I was so happy," Totten beamed.