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After sit-in, transgender students say safety remains an issue

Protest has drawn national media coverage

Students+begin+gathering+for+a+sit-in+during+second+hour+on+Monday+in+the+rotunda.+The+crowd+grew+as+the+day+went+on.
Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

Emily Kruse

Emily Kruse

Students begin gathering for a sit-in during second hour on Monday in the rotunda. The crowd grew as the day went on.

By Anahita Hurt, Online Co-Editor

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Two days after as many as 200 students filled the rotunda to protest transphobic comments, some transgender students say they are being harassed and fear retribution while others are hopeful change is coming.

The protest, which has been covered both locally as well as by “The Washington Post” and “USA Today,” was a response to comments made last week in the senior GroupMe, which included much of the senior class. Much of the coverage noted the involvement of some football players.

“I hoped that when I walked into the school I would get a happy, safe vibe; instead I just felt intense vibes,” said sophomore James Dunnivan, a protester and member of TEA. “I saw tears streaming down faces and kids scattered in panic. I hoped kids would be happy and stress free.”

Attempts to interview administrators on Wednesday about the issue were unsuccessful. However, Principal Matt Brungardt emailed parents to tell them concerns were being taken seriously.

“Lawrence High does not tolerate bullying, discrimination or harassment,” he wrote. “I want to ask for your continued assistance in maintaining open lines of communication. If you or your student have a safety concern, we need to know about it. Please report, and encourage your student to report any safety concerns to a teacher, counselor or administrator so we can investigate and act accordingly. While we do not discuss student disciplinary action publicly due to students’ rights to privacy, this does not mean that nothing is being done.”

Brungardt noted that the school had provided a safe space for students — one of the demands made during the protest on Monday.

“As an educational institution, we are focused on educating all of our students by raising awareness of bullying, harassment and discrimination and promoting a culture of respect and understanding,” he continued. “We also are working with students to bring together an advisory panel of student leaders and club sponsors, such as from Student Council, Total Equality Alliance, Black Student Association, Can We Talk, HALO, Inter-Tribal Club, etc., to continue to discuss these issues and to develop awareness activities and training for students around concerns of our LGBTQ+ community, social justice issues in general and digital citizenship.”

Emily Kruse
Students created hand-written signs to hold during the sit-in on Monday at Lawrence High School

Yet students said that fear in the transgender and nonbinary community remains strong.

“I’m afraid people are angry that they got caught [making offensive, transphobic comments] and will be facing punishments,” Dunnivan said, “and that anger may cause them to attack the LGBT community.”

Elliot Bradley, the event coordinator and a member of Total Equality Alliance, said the atmosphere remains bad.

“I was hoping that going to class would be an option, but it just wasn’t safe,” Bradley said. “So many people were upset; it was hard to walk in the halls. All we were asking for was to feel safe at school.”

Bradley reported being harassed.

“People [were] calling after me in the halls using the F slur,” Bradley said. “As well as last night, someone got my phone number and threatened me saying they were going to ‘get me’ and that they were ‘having fun discriminating’ me.”

Many of the transgender and nonbinary students said they are fearful for their community due to harassment, backlash the protest has gotten in responses to media coverage, and the social climate surrounding transgender and nonbinary students.

“Honestly, [I] just [fear] our safety at this school.” Bradley continued, “I just want all of my trans brothers and sisters to get the education they deserve and not have to fight to be in class.”

In spite of concerns, students remained hopeful for the future of the school.

“Although the response is not going to be immediate we are confident that change is coming,” Bradley said.

The transgender community had made gains in the school during the past year. Among them, a gender-neutral bathroom opened last year, and the school eliminated the gender-specific titles of “king” and “queen” for Homecoming Court nominations this year.

Chisato Kimura, a protester and nominee for Homecoming Court, hoped this week’s sit-in would improve conditions for transgender students.

“Now the administration knows that students take issues of discrimination seriously,” Kimura said. “I think that the next time it happens, we’ll have a swifter response and hopefully one that is communicated with students.”

Students who lead the protest came prepared, with names of students, a list of demands, and much to discuss with administration.  Kimura said she wished some tactics had been different.

“I think at times it went down a negative path that didn’t need to happen,” Kimura said. “I think it might have been more effective to not call out specific people, but to just sit and protest the group of people and administration’s lack of action overall.”

Bradley said students were listened to.

“I mean, I still feel unsafe,” Bradley said. “But, knowing that something is going to be done is a huge relief. Our efforts were not without a response.”

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After sit-in, transgender students say safety remains an issue