by Jackie Zhang, Staff Writer, January 2022
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. LGBTQ+ people are still engaged in an ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States, especially trans Americans whose various rights to use bathrooms, participate in sporting events, and express all aspects of their identity are still being debated. Trans people make up a crucial part of the Nobles community. However, despite the growing acceptance of gender nonconformity, transphobia is still a prevalent issue that the school should be taking into consideration when creating policy and in daily education.
Nobles has the responsibility of educating its students and faculty on trans issues and emphasizing the importance of accepting non-cisgender identity and expression. It’s important to ask questions such as the following: do trans students at Nobles feel safe and respected? Does Nobles have gender norms that make it difficult for students to stray from traditional gender expression and identity? What can Nobles do to address transphobia more effectively?
Co-Director Of The Putnam Library and Leader of Spectrum Talya Sokoll said, “I’ve been at Nobles for ten years. I think ten years ago, nobody was even saying the word transgender. I think most people probably didn’t know what it meant. And I think the nuance that comes along with the understanding of gender identity beyond just ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ – even that was just not even a conversation at all.” As a faculty advisor of LGBTQ+ issues, Sokoll described how the dialogue around gender has changed at Nobles over the past decade. They said, “I don’t think anybody, even including myself ten years ago, would have been able to talk about gender fluidity. So in that way I think the school has come a long way since I’ve started.”
However, when asked about transphobia at Nobles, trans students describe mostly negative experiences. Larkin Gifford (Class II) said, “I have had people in front of me make comments about me, mentioning how weird it is that I say I’m not a girl. They have pointed it out and said things like, Oh, she just said she’s not a girl. As if they’re trying to be discreet when they actually aren’t. I have had multiple experiences of people mocking they/them pronouns, not agreeing with they/them pronouns. There’s just a general culture of people consistently, purposefully, refusing to educate themselves about pronouns and their importance.” Gifford’s account of blatantly transphobic comments are disconcerting. While ignorance is often built upon a lack of education, it’s also crucial to foster an environment that is more open to non-traditional gender identities and forms of expression.
Acey Sheehan (Class I) said, “I remember last year,, I was sitting in the alcoves eating lunch. Someone walked passed and I could overhear their conversation and they made a comment about how it was kind of gay to be into trans women, from a male standpoint. Hearing that was pretty scary since I think most [transphobia] gets said happens behind my back, or away from me.” Those types of comments are hurtful and invalidating to hear from a trans student’s perspective and they spread misinformation and harmful stereotypes about trans people. It’s hurtful to imply that trans women are not women because of their biological sex. It is clear that despite coming a long way, Nobles still has a significant leap to take on the trangender issues especially in terms of education.
When asked about what the administration could do to improve, trans students brought up the importance of accountability for transphobia at Nobles. Gifford said, “I think teachers, especially being bystanders, is a huge issue, because teachers in this community are people who are supposed to, if anyone, be the ones to stand up against transphobia and other types of cruelness.” Other students agreed that teacher involvement is crucial to the accountability process. Sheehan said, “There have been many instances where I have to correct teachers [on pronouns]. Also, when an adult should be doing the educating on LGBTQ+ topics, especially transgender topics, I end up having to do it, and it’s really tiring to constantly do that.”
Sokoll also emphasized the importance of accountability and described how the school could improve on that aspect. They said, “Creating written policies to make sure that if something does happen, or something is questioned that we can say, this is our policy. Kids can use whatever bathroom [they’re] most comfortable in.”
Nobles definitely has a long road ahead on combating transphobia and gender norms. When transphobic comments are made or misinformation is spread, it is of the utmost importance that the administration is made aware and makes sure that the proper precedent is set. “Transphobic comments are often treated as just another political stance that a student can have instead of as an actually offensive comment towards trans people,” said Gifford, further stating, “Transphobia is treated as simply opinions, when in fact, they are not opinions, they are just hate.”