By: Sadie Batchis (284)
Central High School is a school where – for the most part – students are accepted for who they are; whether that be their race, gender, sexual identity, etc. We’re not perfect, but students I’ve spoken to feel that their identity is respected by most teachers. Members of the LGBTQ+ community make up a sizable portion of Central’s student body, and there are many queer teachers as well. Asking for pronouns is normalized and we have various clubs dedicated to certain identities. In addition, an LGBTQ+ Studies elective is offered, and rainbows can be found in most hallways.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in many other schools and school districts across the country – far from it. Parents have been suing schools for failing to inform them of their child’s requests to be referred to with different pronouns or called by a different name. More recently, bills and mandates are being proposed and passed, forcing teachers to notify parents if their child discloses any change in preferences regarding their name, pronouns, or gender expression. When I asked Mrs. Peeples, an English teacher at Central, if she thought revealing such information was a teacher’s responsibility, she said, “It is really the opposite of what we’re responsible for. We’re responsible, as teachers, to not only be teachers of our content area, but also to be teachers of life in some capacity. And in that, [the] role includes treating our students as humans as they navigate around, not only new material in their classes but new frontiers and new aspects of themselves. I’m firmly against outing students.” Teachers should not be getting fired for respecting a student’s privacy, especially when it comes to something as sensitive as their sexuality and gender identity.
It’s not easy to come out to anyone. Kai Willis-Caroll (282) told me that students come out to the teachers that they trust and feel safe with – teachers who respect their identity. Breaching that trust and respect may result in students no longer feeling safe in school. Many students who come out to teachers are not out to their parents, and most likely aren’t ready to be. Phoenix Wicks (283) added that “It’s possible for it to also be a matter of safety. You do not know what the parents’ opinions are on having that sort of identity and what a parent is capable of.” Schools should be a space where students can embrace their identity without having to worry about their safety. Parents’ negative responses can range from an “I don’t support you,” to kicking their kid out of the house. Outing a student to their parents is not only morally wrong but a potential danger to the student’s wellbeing.
These anti-LGBTQ+ mandates aren’t limited to outing students. Transgender girls are being barred from girls sports, pride flags are being taken down, and teachers aren’t allowed to accept a change in pronouns without written consent from a parent. Teachers make sure to not even mention the word “gay” lest they lose their job. Central Bucks, a school district right outside of Philadelphia, has just banned teachers from “advocating partisan, political, or social policy issues in classrooms,” blocking them from displaying pride flags and other symbols. Hopefully, these rules don’t spread to Philadelphia. Bianca Bellacosa (284) comments, “I don’t think this could happen in Philadelphia. A lot of our population is democratic and there’s a lot of diversity. There are also a lot of queer people in Philadelphia and in our school.” Central is fortunate to be located in a city like Philadelphia, but what about LGBTQ+ students in other parts of the country?