A Los Angeles high school recently opened the first gender-neutral toilet 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 female toilet 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.

"This toilet is important so that all students can feel comfortable, not just LGBT students or not just minority students, it is for all students so everyone could feel welcome. This is our school and we are eight hours here and at certain times we are going to have to use the toilet and it's just unfair that some of these kids have to hold the toilet," said Johnny Ramos, a student and LGBT activist.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which runs Santee, said that it was believed to be the first gender-neutral school toilet in a public school in the state and among only a few nationwide. Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest US public school district, with more than 1,000 schools and educational centres, plus 53 affiliated charter schools.

So-called "bathroom bills" like the one passed in North Carolina have fuelled debate about privacy, religious freedom and equal rights. North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory last 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 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.