The Pepperbox

The Student News Site of Arcata High School

The Pepperbox

The Pepperbox

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Transphobia at Arcata High School

“The fact that we don’t have any [unlocked] gender-neutral bathrooms, [just] the ones that you have to give your phone to go into, is insane to me,”

With a rise in transphobia across the world, it is no surprise that it’s seen at Arcata High as well. With only a tiny portion of our student body identifying as trans, it might not seem like there are any issues with transphobia at all. However, the high school experience can be very difficult for trans kids, and there are uncomfortable experiences that these students face every day at school.

Many trans youth unfortunately do not receive support at home from their families and loved ones. 

“On campus, there’s not a lot of [accommodations] for people who don’t have supportive parents,” trans student Jesse Shivers said. Many students have expressed how difficult it is to get support at school when they don’t get it at home. 

For example, a student’s name and gender cannot be changed in the school system until the school has received a signed note from the student’s guardian approving the change or the guardian comes into the office to request the change. This leaves students who have unsupportive families in the uncomfortable position of having to ask their teachers to memorize a different name than what’s written in the system, which can be very difficult for teachers who see hundreds of students every day. It can lead to many more mistakes and misunderstandings occurring. It can be an extremely difficult thing for the school to navigate since it can be complicated trying to use certain names and pronouns for a student in school when they aren’t out or supported at home. 

An anonymous AHS student shared his experience with getting his name changed at school and the issues he has with the system.

“My family is not supportive of me at home so, I went [to] the school myself and I talked to Maria in the office, and she said, ‘You just have to bring a slip from home signed from your family that says that they approve of the name change.’” He expressed how frustrating this was since he didn’t get support at home. 

“When your name is changed in the school system, it’s not genuinely changed, it’s just hidden. I believe you should be able to just go to the office and say you would like your name changed in the system to something else and there should be nothing else that needs to be confirmed from your family,” he said.

He stated that he thinks “it’s putting a really big hurdle on students who do not have that support at home to be constantly outed and dead named in front of all their classmates.”

Arcata High may not be the most conservative of schools, but it can still be a very hostile environment for queer students. 

“You’ll hear slurs being thrown at other people, or just [students being] homophobic in general while you’re walking in school,” Shivers said. He does not consider AHS to be a safe place for trans students. 

“The fact that we don’t have any [unlocked] gender-neutral bathrooms, [just] the ones that you have to give your phone to go into, is insane to me,” Saffron Weekly, the President of SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance) Club said. “I know people who won’t go to the bathroom [at school] because they feel uncomfortable.”

The bathroom issue is major for trans students, and while there are plans underway to have new gender-neutral bathrooms built, many feel that it has already taken too much time. Though, it is worth mentioning that Nurse Johnny Kell’s office has a gender-neutral bathroom that students are welcome to use.

“I felt super unsafe in the bathrooms [at school,] being a transmasc* dude…Walking in looking how I did made it to the point where I just didn’t use the bathrooms at school. It was either pick between being verbally assaulted [in the girl’s bathroom] or being physically assaulted [in the boy’s bathroom],” a recent AHS alumni said.

“AHS needs to pay a lot more attention to [their] students’ mental health, especially the mental health of the queer and trans folks. I was offered some support but it was half-hearted and always seemed empty,” the alumni said. 

It has been an ongoing battle for students struggling with their mental health to find support, even though Arcata High has an on-campus crisis counselor. It can be especially difficult for trans folk to feel understood by counselors because their experiences can be very personal and often seem complicated to cis people.

“The one faculty member that I will be forever grateful to was Davena Bagnall. She was extremely helpful and supportive to me in the issues I faced while I was [at AHS] and [she] gave genuine attempts to help,” the alumni said. He went on to recommend that anyone who’s seeking support should go to Bagnall, adding that he believes she is, “Your best bet in starting the process to get the help you need.”

As a trans person at AHS, I feel unsafe when the topic of trans people comes up, no matter the context. It can feel very vulnerable to have those discussions around me because I feel unsafe constantly when I’m at school. It’s impossible to know what people’s views are and whether or not they are a safe person for me to be around. I never know if I’m being clocked** or not which causes a lot of anxiety and dysphoria.

It’s a shared experience amongst trans students that we carry the fear of being outed or clocked at school. I’ve had experiences where teachers will project emails and things onto the board and I’ve just had to sit tight hoping and praying that my deadname would be off the board ASAP. I’ve also had teachers misgender me very publicly in my class and I didn’t feel safe or confident enough to speak up, so I just had to pretend nothing was wrong. It’s a scary experience to be put in a vulnerable situation where your classmates could find out you’re trans without your consent.

Students at AHS, trans and cis alike, agree that Arcata High School is not exactly a safe place for trans people. Whether it be feeling uncomfortable using the gendered bathrooms, overhearing slurs and transphobic comments, or being targeted at school, it’s clear that there is a lot of work to be done here in order to make our campus a safe place for trans individuals. They deserve better.


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About the Contributor
Alex Phelan, Reporter
Alex Phelan,16, is a reporter for the Pepperbox at Arcata High School. He writes articles of all kinds, but mostly sticks to themes of social justice and current events. He’s been writing short stories for as long as he can remember, but as he’s gotten older, he’s become more attuned to journalism and reporting. He spent the 2021-22 school year writing essays for the student magazine Mycelium at Redwood Coast Montessori and the 2022-23 school year writing for the Pepperbox. Contact him at his email linked below!
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