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Protest mocks a student’s trans identity

Last week, a student was reportedly suspended from North Pole High School in North Pole, Alaska when she used “excessive force” on a boy who was a part of a group of boys blocking her from exiting the women’s bathroom.

In actuality, the boys were staging a bogus “protest” by planning to march into the women’s bathroom, to which the student defended herself. The student’s sister later confirmed online that she was expelled from school.

The boys organized the protest in response to a transgender student posting a selfie of himself in the boys’ bathroom on Snapchat. Even though none of them were present, these boys felt that the student was invading their privacy by taking the photo.

Their protest weaponized the right to have a voice and protest to mask their transphobia. They were fundamentally against the student’s right to identify with a gender they were not born with.

“Tomorrow identify as a women [sic]…use the girls’ bathroom we are set so let’s do it, don’t do it to be a asshole we are doing it to boycot [sic] this bullshit,” reads a line from a Snapchat post that is circulating the internet detailing the viewpoints of some of the boys involved.

It’s clear that the boys weren’t protesting an invasion of privacy but the existence of a transgender person at their school. Even in the Snapchat post, they ignore the student’s desired pronouns by calling him “she” and saying “she [identifies] as men.”

On April 4, the boys walked to the entrance of the women’s bathroom at North Pole High School and when someone tried to leave, one of them blocked her from doing so. She felt threatened, rightfully, and kneed the boy blocking her in the groin.

According to the high school’s media statement, all people involved in the incident were punished, including the girl and the boys who were “protesting.” Due to student confidentiality, the information on exact discipline can’t be released but the tweet from the expelled student’s sister shows that she was punished much more than the true aggressors in the situation.

The school’s decision to punish the girl so harshly for protecting herself sends a harmful and sexist message to the other students; metaphorically saying that boys will be boys. North Pole High School has been handling the situation according to Fairbanks North Star Borough School District policy regarding student discipline. They have not released the names of the students involved and have continued to reiterate their policy that discourages the use of force.

“In regards to transgender students, when a student identifies as transgender in our district, the student (and often the family) work with school counselors and administration to determine how to best meet that student’s educational needs. The conversation includes use of restrooms…,” the media statement from North Pole High School said. “Students are not permitted to determine which restroom facility is appropriate for other students. Students who use or attempt to use a restroom facility that a school administrator has determined is not appropriate for the student, could be subject to student discipline.”

The media statement seems more like a formality as Superintendent Dr. Karen Gaborik writes more about the student discipline policy rather than the fact there are a group of transphobic boys on the high school campus spreading their hate and physically acting upon it.

The issue is not people using the wrong bathrooms but the lack of education on gender and sexuality. This situation is an example of how that evolves into teenage cisgender boys believing that identifying as a woman for a day and going into the women’s bathroom to take a selfie is a legitimate protest and simultaneously not discriminatory against transgender people.

Instead of focusing on the student’s use of “excessive force,” the school should have considered why she felt so threatened to do so in the first place. The motivation behind this incident was not discussed thoroughly in the media statement and the superintendent even legitimizes the boys’ actions by saying they went to the women’s bathroom “to take a Snapchat of their own, similar to what the transgender student did,” but it is not the same at all. The transgender student took a selfie for personal use while the cisgender boys’ intent was to intimidate and bully.

The focus is obvious from the school to initiate damage control instead of addressing the lack of education and safety for the transgender community on-campus. By expelling the girl who defended herself against the protest, that tells the community as a whole, especially the student who took the selfie, that they do not have power or support from the school to defend their presence.

Gaborik claims, in the media statement, that transgender students are given special attention from school counselors and administration to better their education, but it is not only about their individual learning capabilities, it’s also about making their environment safe enough for them to be able to get that education in the first place.

It concerns me that the school has not considered how the transgender student who took the selfie to begin with must feel. Even though he was not present at the protest, it was targeted against him and the community he is a part of. It cannot be easy to walk into school a couple of days later and know that school-wide, people are talking about you, and probably not in a nice way. How can a productive discourse take place when most students are not properly informed on the subject in question?

While North Pole High school has a couple of gender neutral bathrooms on-campus, it seems that gender is generally approached as a complete binary. The use of language is important, and the school’s decision to suspend the girl in self-defense and reiterate their policy on violence rather than addressing the hateful intention of this protest shows where their views lie.