August: Uncut, Part 2: Transgender students cope with harassment

  • August George takes a break during play rehearsal at ConVal on Tuesday.

  • ConVal's Gender Sexuality Alliance works to create a more accepting school, change stereotypes, and organize events to raise awareness around the LGBT community.

  • ConVal's Gender Sexuality Alliance works to create a more accepting school, change stereotypes, and organize events to raise awareness around the LGBT community.

  • August George is a transgender student at ConVal High School.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 10, 2017 11:52PM

When the people in the back of August George’s math class get bored they’ll start hurling insults.

“(They) goof off, get bored, they’ll start — I don’t know — they’ll call me a ‘he/she’ or a ‘tranny’ or something,” August said.

One day, August said, students were having a loud discussion about someone who was transgender when they knew that August could overhear the conversation. Another time, a teacher wrote August’s birth name on the whiteboard because it’s not legally changed yet, and the rest of the class started chanting it.

August said he later asked the teacher to not write his birthname on the board, but that the request was not granted. Not long after, August dropped the class.

He transferred into another math class, but said that the bullying is even worse.

This semester he’s also had to drop gym class because he wasn’t allowed to use the men’s locker room.

August said after he dropped the class, administrators fixed the issue. He said he wasn’t informed until after the reversal.

During a meeting with the Ledger-Transcript on a recent Wednesday morning, a group of transgender students at ConVal echoed August’s experience.

“Sometimes, like when I answer questions in class — and I won’t name names — they call me (names), You know the classic ones, trans slurs I guess you could say,” said Chris Clark, who is a senior. “I sometimes get pushed in the hallways, too.”

Clark said he remembers one time he used the men’s bathroom and when he walked out, there were some guys outside who laughed at him.

He said there are unisex bathrooms in the school, but that they’re few and far between. They’re also out of the way, or located in classrooms where lectures are held.

“When I had psychology that was downstairs on the other side of the school, so if I had to go to the bathroom I had to go up four sets of stairs and it took me like five minutes to get there,” Clark said.

He said he liked psychology and didn’t want to miss much of the lesson. By the time he had made his way to the nearest unisex bathroom, it had taken about 10 minutes total.

“I don’t feel safe using the male bathrooms and no way in hell am I going to use the female bathrooms,” Clark said.

Others in the group – some who didn’t want to be named in this article because they have not come out to their entire family yet – said they walk around school in a constant state of fear, or anxiety, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before someone bullies them.

Clark said he gets through tough times because of his friends and family, who are there to support him when something happens.

Out of a group of five interviewed for this article, all said they feel like they need more support. They said a guidance counselor, or someone at the school, should be trained to deal with transgender issues.

They said that the teachers, staff, and administrators are, for the most part, doing their best to help, but don’t always know exactly how to do that. Students said even having one person at the school who is transgender, or well educated on the issues, would help.

A study published in Science News last August found that 30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt.

“Our study provides further evidence for the at-risk nature of transgender youth and emphasizes that mental health providers and physicians working with this population need to be aware of these challenges,” Claire Peterson, PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Students at ConVal said there is a Gender-Sexuality Alliance and a transgender group at school, where people who identify gather and openly talk about issues they face. They said the groups are helpful.

“My middle school was very different [from the high school]. I almost committed suicide twice there,” Clark said. “So I came to high school with a lot of trepidation. And it was a big culture shock — a good culture shock — because there were other queer people here.”

He said it was great to discover a community of people like him.

“As I’ve gotten older here, the shock has worn off,” Clark said. “It’s good here, way better than my middle school, but it’s not perfect.”

Interim Principal Gib West said transgender students are currently covered under a non-discrimination policy, although school board committee is working to create a more thorough policy.

ConVal’s Policy Committee chair Rich Cahoon said the committee has recently been working through a policy that would directly address transgender students.

“Where we stand now is that we are waiting for input from our attorney, and especially waiting for the new model policy from the New Hampshire School Boards Association,” Cahoon said in an email to the Ledger-Transcript. “We don’t like to feel our way blindly, but prefer to work off of a draft from NHSBA.”

He said the committee has also been handed several policies from other districts, although those have been deemed unworkable to some of the people on the board.

“It is important that policies not just be a statement of values, but also something that can be followed,” Cahoon said.

In the meantime, Cahoon said the district’s non-discrimination rights covers its transgender students.

“So it’s not like we have nothing in place for the protection of these students,” Cahoon said. “We do.”

Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District’s Superintendent Bryan Lane said the district doesn’t have a policy in place for transgender students, and is not planning to put one in place in the foreseeable future.

Conant and Mascenic school districts did not respond to calls regarding the matter.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.