News (USA)

Principal backs students after brawl with Westboro protesters

Principal backs students after brawl with Westboro protesters

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The principal of a Los Angeles high school where a scuffle broke out with adult protesters over a new gender-neutral bathroom praised his students Wednesday as “trailblazers” for campaigning to install the restroom.

In a statement, Principal Martin Gomez said he is proud of students at Santee Education Complex for their efforts to establish the first multi-stall, gender-neutral restroom at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest.

He dismissed the protesters as a small group trying to “discredit the brave actions of our students.”

Students leaving the school Tuesday tussled with protesters dressed in black and yelling from a bullhorn.

A video of the brawl aired on KABC-TV showed one person punching another on the ground while onlookers yelled and other students were held back.

No one was seriously injured or arrested.

Sgt. Edward Bernal with the Los Angeles School Police Department said the protesters were members of the Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay group. Police were expecting protesters to appear at the school again Wednesday and placed additional officers at the scene, though no demonstrators showed up. Instead students held a peace rally, waving gay pride rainbow flags and carrying signs, including one that read, “Keep Calm, It’s Just a Toilet.”

Westboro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bathrooms for transgender students have become a focal point in the national debate over anti-discrimination laws. The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Virginia teenager last October stating schools can’t prevent transgender students from using the restrooms that correspond with their gender identities without violating federal law.

Students at Santee Education Complex collected more than 700 signatures as part of a campaign launched in January called “It’s Just a Toilet” in support of a gender-neutral restroom. The school announced the bathroom’s official opening last week.

The school’s 1,800 students still have access to gender-specific restrooms on campus as well.

Gomez said Wednesday the school was working to avoid any further altercations. In addition to extra police patrols, the school has counselors on hand and asked teachers to review a PowerPoint presentation with students discussing the incident, freedom of speech and school expectations.

Kween Robinson, 17, a junior who worked on the gender neutral-bathroom campaign, said she was saddened when she walked out of school Tuesday and found a group of adults yelling that the students were sinners and “going to hell.”

She condemned Tuesday’s violence and said student advocates remained undeterred.

“Those bathrooms are going to be there forever,” she said.

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