CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - For transgender students in South Carolina, the school bathrooms are a major issue, creating anxiety, even serious illness for some.
According to the National Education Association, schools are increasingly being called upon to support transgender students. California law requires schools to provide restrooms consistent with a student's gender identity. One elementary school there has taken it a step further, becoming the first in the nation to convert all restrooms to gender-neutral facilities.
"I'm an honors student, so I can't be missing class," said Charlie, who explains that he calculates when to use the bathroom at school. "I can't be 20 minutes away from class just to go to the bathroom," he said. "I could be using the one right around the corner."
But Charlie isn't allowed to use that boy's bathroom. He treks to the nurse's room. It's the same issue for Luke.
"The real reason they don't want you to use the bathroom is so that a parent doesn't come and complain to the school board," Luke said.
The 15-year-old is also an honors student, who has suffered urinary tract infections, holding off going to the bathroom, afraid he'd miss something
important in class.
Another high school student, Jay, tries to wait until he gets home, but when nature calls, he says he "stealths" out a place to go.
"Basically I will go to the girls bathroom if there's no one to see me because I pass pretty well as a guy," Jay said.
Not the boys' bathroom? Jay responded, "It's just this irrational thought, do I still look like a girl?"
Middle school student, Gabriel, is required to go to the nurse, which he says raises a lot of questions from his classmates. It took a while for the school to decide where he was allowed to go.
"They won't let me use the men's bathroom," Gabriel said. " At first they said no, and then they changed their mind and said yes, then they changed again and said no."
The girls' restroom in 15-year-old Sera's high school is off limits for her, too.
"I use the staff restrooms and they have one at the end of every hallway," Sera said. "But some of my classes are very far away from those bathrooms.".
Gender appropriate bathrooms should not be off limits, according to the Schools in Transition policy guide co-authored by the National Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Gender Spectrum and National Center for Lesbian Rights. Transgender students, it says, should "never be forced to use alternative facilities to make other students comfortable."
In fact, it says students who aren't comfortable sharing facilities with a transgender student should use the faculty or nurses bathrooms.
For locker rooms, privacy curtains are suggested for any student, or schedules adjustments allowing the student to change before or after other students.
Luke feels the adults at school need to be more understanding.
"As far as the staff and administration goes, they need to be more educated on transgender rights," he said.
Parents of these students tell us they feel the school district administrators are flying by the seats of their pants. Parents want a plan.
"If there's a procedure or policy in place to handle it, we don't have to fight the 'well, we'll see what we can do, or, it's just the way it is," Gabriel's mother, Sara, said.
"I don't think they understand what it's like to be transgender, because they're not educated," Luke said.
Melissa Moore is part of the support group, "We are Family."
"Policy needs to be changed," she said, "so that there is non-discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity."
She said training should be required for staff members, students and everyone who comes in contact with students. Moore says there are no tools to measure how many transgender students there are in the Lowcountry.
But experts say it is important for schools to be prepared for the growing trend of transgender students living openly.