In today’s world, one can’t go more than ten minutes without seeing some form of a social rights movement. This isn’t a new idea either; starting in the late 1800’s and continuing until the 1920’s woman’s suffrage was the hot topic for social unrest, in the 1960’s it was black’s rights and the ending of segregation, and society’s current project is sexual orientation and gender identity rights.
On the front page of the DHS Handbook, there is a statement of non-discrimination “based on any non-merit factor, including… sex, sexual orientation, gender identity… or genetic information.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign website, sexual orientation is, “the preferred term used when referring to an individual’s physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender,” while gender identity, “refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman, or some other gender, which may of may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth.” This is completely different from gender expression however, as that is defined as, “all of the external characteristics and behaviors that ate socially defined as masculine or feminine.”*
Since that still leaves room for questions, junior Aleksander M. put the difference into even simpler terms, “Your gender identity is the gender you consider yourself to be, what you are in your head. Gender expression is whether you act or dress in a traditionally feminine or masculine way. Biological sex is anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones.”
Junior MC S. said, “It’s not that simple, however, as there isn’t just male and female, there’s a whole spectrum of gender, including agender, or no gender, and genderfluid, or changing gender.” Gender identity is a constantly changing subject, with new identifications and clarifications, leading to misunderstandings and complications in teaching about it.
In addition to the school’s stance on non-discrimination, there is also a Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA) that meets weekly on Wednesday afternoons after school. The club is safe place to go and talk about issues that students are facing, according to sophomore and member, Mary Kate L. Also, “[it’s there for] people who feel like they don’t fit in,” said sophomore Devin B. Mrs. Melcher, the club administrator, said that overall goals are to raise money for organizations such as the Trevor Project, “[a] crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBT youth,” (http://www.thetrevorproject.org) and No Kid Hungry, the organization devoted to ending children’s hunger (https://www.nokidhungry.org). The club holds monthly bake sales to raise money for the various charities, and at the end of the year splits up whatever money they receive and donates all of it.
Also, the GSA promotes days such as the National Coming Out Day and the National Day of Silence, which are both days designed to raise awareness about the issues faced by LGBT youth.
Even teachers who aren’t associated with the club believe that student’s well-being should be taken care of first and foremost. Freshman World History and senior AP Psych teacher, Mr. Aukerman, said, “[we are] all invested in teaching young people to be as well [mentally and physically] as they can be.”
Aleksander said that the administration had helped ease his transition in an academic setting, by “[changing] my name and gender in all of the school records, [communicating] with my teachers before school started, and [figuring] out a solution regarding bathrooms and locker rooms. They made my transition much easier and go far more smoothly than I expected, and I am very grateful to them for that.”
So Duxbury is the picture of the perfect forward-thinking school, which supports all of it’s students and respect the wishes and rights of those who are usually the downtrodden and looked down upon.
While it is easy to take make a public announcement supporting gender identity equality, it’s much harder to actually implement those ideals into a group of roughly 1000 adolescents who are exploring their identities and learning to navigate through peer pressure and the social battlefield that modern day high schools are. The “non-discrimination” ideals that the school may outwardly support are not always present during the actual school days, according to some.
Aleksander said, “I wouldn’t call the attitude towards gender variant students (or any other queer students) supportive. It’s more tolerant than anything else.” While tolerance can be a good thing, it isn’t enough for students at DHS since he continued, “the general attitude I get… is that you can do whatever you want as long as you’re quiet about it.”
MC was of the same mindset, and said “Most of the flack I get is ignorance. People don’t know what I am, and react with stupidity or hostility… people ignore my chosen name, insist I’m a girl, and refuse to call me anything but ‘she’.”
Ignorance was a common theme in the problems that students spoke about, with junior Thea B., member of the GSA, saying that, “[the] problem is [students] not understanding.”
Students brought up concerns over the lack of sexual education for various sexualities also. Aleksander said, “I believe that a more inclusive curriculum would be helpful to LGBT students, reduce the heteronormative culture of our school and… misconceptions and stigmas surrounding queer sex and sexuality.” MC agreed, saying, “I’ve had to define what genderfluid is to health teachers, as well as other terms they should know, and integrate into the curriculum.”
While ignorance can account for some of the problems plaguing transgender and gender fluid students, other problems include every-day acts of malice; such as having an open water bottle dumped into a backpack containing a laptop, books, and binders, slurs being thrown in the hallway at students as they walk to class, and verbal attacks after school, off of the campus.
MC said that most students weren’t outright mean, “[they] treat me differently. I’m the punch line to a joke that’s not funny.”
According to MC, the GSA doesn’t do enough to create a space for openly queer students, for straight students struggling with their sexuality, or simply a place to speak without fear of repercussions. As a final plea to the school, Stair said, “we need a safe space for LGBTQ students to meet and talk with no repercussions… Gay should not longer be an insult. Faggot should no longer be used. We should learn about gay pride and people like Leelah along with MLK Jr. and the Black Panthers. People shouldn’t assume others are straight until proven gay. Who someone’s attracted to, what they call themselves, should not be a matter of public debate, and if they chose to change what they call themselves, or who they date, they should be able to.”
*a complete list of terms and definitions from the Human Rights Campaign can be found at their website, http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions