By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles high school on Friday opened the first gender-neutral restroom in the nation's second-largest school district, and likely the state, in a move geared toward accommodating transgender students.
Santee Education Complex converted a second-floor girls' restroom after the campus Gay Straight Alliance gathered some 700 signatures on a petition calling for the change during a heated national debate over transgender rights.
North Carolina's governor in March signed into law a measure barring transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, touching off widespread criticism from corporate, entertainment and sports leaders.
"Our students who advocated for the gender-neutral restrooms are the real heroes this valuable experience allowed them to develop leadership skills that will prepare them for college and career," Santee Principal Martin Gomez said in a statement.
Elise Hill, a spokeswoman for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which runs Santee, said that it was believed to be the first gender-neutral school restroom in a public school in the state and among only a few nationwide.
Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest U.S. public school district, with more than 1,000 schools and educational centers, plus 53 affiliated charter schools.
So-called "bathroom bills" like the one passed in North Carolina have fueled debate about privacy, religious freedom and equal rights and drawn stern reactions from major corporations and entertainers who call them discriminatory.
North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory earlier this week tweaked his the law with an executive order, adding protections against discrimination for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Companies such as PayPal Holdings and Deutsche Bank have halted plans to add jobs in the state after McCrory and top Republican lawmakers said they would not repeal the measure.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, on Wednesday signed an anti-discrimination order protecting the rights of gay and transgender state employees and employees of state contractors.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Richard Chang)