Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 18, Issue 5. Friday, Feb. 13, 2015.
Reason for publication: I wanted to analyze the level to which transgender discrimination exists on the GBHS campus. What I found what shocking – a higher level of intolerance than what I initially suspected.
On Dec. 28, 2014, Leelah Alcorn, a transgender Ohio teenager, committed suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming truck. Hours after her demise, a pre-programmed suicide note she set to be published on the social media website Tumblr became a trending discussion on another social media site, Twitter.
Especially popular in the note was the specific bit about Alcorn describing her own parent’s unacceptance of her desire to transition and the necessity of her death being significant. Alcorn’s death has since served as something of a wake-up call for our society, catalyzing calls for nationwide transgender acceptance while also putting into perspective the different faces of discrimination transgender people face daily.
While Alcorn herself resided on the other side of the country, her death surfaces an important question – does transgender discrimination exist in the Granite Bay community and, more specifically, at GBHS?
One anonymous transgender Granite Bay High School student said, pre-transition, he thought he could never change his gender – born a girl – and as soon as he learned transition was possible he did research to learn more about it.
“I never felt like a girl, but I’m not super masculine either and that made it hard to really know how I felt,” the student said. “My parents have not been fully accepting and because they aren’t I’ll have to wait until I’m eighteen to transition. This can be devastating to transgender people, but I’ve learned to accept it.”
The transgender student said school is an escape because peers assume he is just another boy and do not look twice at him. However, he is not technically “out” to GBHS faculty and staff, and therefore they are not aware of the proper gendered pronouns to use.
“If people looked at me and knew I was transgender I’m sure my life would be a lot different,” the student said. “I’ve been called derogatory terms like ‘tranny’ or ‘dyke.’ I haven’t seen much violent discrimination, thank goodness, but hate speech is definitely an issue in this community.”
In a different circumstance, GBHS senior Tj Conway participated in the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club’s activity where students involved defied social and gender ‘norms.’ Conway wore differentiating amounts of makeup throughout the week and received a infinitesimal but harsh glimpse into the life of a transgender teenager in the Granite Bay community.
“The reactions that I received the first day … were fairly plain and simple,” Conway said. “Just the occasional ‘fag’ or ‘ha, gay!’ But as the week went on, it seemed people had … become less comfortable with the fact that this person who was fairly obviously a male was walking around like a normal guy with makeup on his face. The ‘ha, gay!’ turned into ‘tranny’, ‘poser’, ‘ugly ass bitch.’”
He said while the experience wasn’t exactly pleasant, it did provide him with a new, more open perspective and a cruel insight into the discrimination circling around the GBHS campus aimed at its transgender population.
GBHS senior and practicing Mormon Miriam Flinders said her religion believes that a man and woman were created so by God for a reason and feelings of gender confusion should be put aside. However, that does not mean believers of this religion partake in discrimination directed at the transgender community.
“I would still be friends with people (who were transgender) because of the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated,” Flinders said. “But I just would not be in support of the(ir) choices. I wouldn’t discriminate, I just would not be in support of what they do.”
IB and CP physics teacher Andrew Phillips said he sees discrimination toward the transgender community in other ways on campus, such as how school traditions are used to elicit humor, and that discrimination can be a form of comedy.
“One of the things that I noticed when I came to Granite Bay was … (that) it’s almost a tradition (to) make fun of transgender students in an indirect way,” Phillips said. “For our homecoming game the football team wears the cheerleader’s clothes and the cheerleaders wear the football team’s pads and (everyone thinks) ‘isn’t this funny that we’re dressed up like the opposite gender’. I don’t think anybody is intending for that to be offensive, but I was really surprised … (that) that’s humor across this campus.”
Phillips is also co-advisor of the GSA club with social psychology and IB History of the Americas teacher Jill McKinney. To promote acceptance the GSA has discussed holding a vigil for Leelah Alcorn to show support and solidarity.
Additionally, an anonymous student at GBHS recently experienced the transition of her dad who now goes by the name Dani. As a result of Dani’s transition, the student’s view of transgender people has since changed.
“Before … Dani’s transition, transgenders scared me because I thought that they all dressed up very crazy and didn’t … look ‘normal,’” the student said. “(However), my opinion has changed drastically (because) I realized that transgenders can look ‘normal’ and even if they didn’t it means nothing because they are finally the person they feel like they really are.”
The student said Dani has found happiness and contentment through living the life she always deserved and wanted but denied herself. However, she said Dani’s transition hasn’t been accepted by a few family members.
“I think the hardest part about having a parent transition is that at first I felt like I was losing them forever,” the student said. “But now I know that it has only brought us closer and that this was truly an amazing thing that happened for Dani. If I could tell someone that discriminates against transgenders one thing, I would say don’t judge them because they aren’t doing anything to harm those around them, they’re just trying to be the best person they think they should have been all along. Honestly, Dani’s transition was the best thing that has happened in my life and I’m so thankful for it.”
One proposed solution to end discrimination on the GBHS campus is by including education about lifestyle and gender choices and sexual orientation through mandatory health classes. While Phillips said he is a bit more skeptical about the major change it could produce, McKinney said she strongly supports the idea but does not believe discrimination will ever end entirely.
“Education … and information (are) always the way to stop discrimination,” McKinney said. “It’s like that with anybody who’s being discriminated against – if you don’t know who they are, if you have an idea or a preconceived notion of who they are – you’re allowed to make a judgement … but once you know who that person is you may or may not make that same judgement”
The previously mentioned transgender students said transgender people are still just people above all with genuine feelings and emotions and should not be the target of discrimination.
“To those who discriminate against the trans community, I say to you that I am shocked that you care so much about whether someone’s genitals matches their outward appearance,” the student said. “Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Always love your friends, family, neighbors and strangers no matter their gender or sexual orientation. And above all else, assume nothing.”