The “Expect Respect” Internship Group at Brooklyn Center High School provides students with a safe space to be themselves. In November 2018, an intern named Jesse* (name changed to protect privacy) approached Hannah, the Health Mentor at Brooklyn Center High School about something she experiences quite frequently at the school: discrimination in bathrooms based on their non-binary gender expression. Jesse was fed up with having girls tell her she is not a girl, and being told that she is in the wrong bathroom. With the help of Hannah and her Expect Respect Internship peers, Jesse put together a letter to the school with room for supportive signatures to give to administration. The letter highlighted that the school needs to be more inclusive, providing gender-inclusive bathrooms and gym changing spaces. The internship peers and Hannah are so incredibly proud of Jesse reaching her personal goals, and aligning her letter project with internship goals as well.
Here is the letter Jesse wrote to the administration:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am Jesse, a junior at Brooklyn Center Middle and High School STEAM. I am writing this letter in hopes of bringing awareness about an important issue at BCS. We have no gender-neutral restrooms at the school and we have a number of queer students who feel uncomfortable going to the bathroom of their assigned gender where they’re stared at or judged for using the restroom and locker rooms/changing spaces. Most queer students use the nurse’s restroom, but it is not always open and it’s not fair that we feel like that is our only option. This is an issue we need to solve.
I can understand why you may be hesitant with this topic because it can be an awkward conversation, but consider that it can also be awkward to go into a restroom or locker room and have girls scream because they think you’re a boy because you’re “not girly”. This happens to me all the time, and it hurts me deeply and it makes me feel less human. “You’re in the wrong bathroom.” Imagine being told that weekly in a building where you’re supposed to feel safe. As school staff, I know some of you may think of the worst possible outcomes of adding gender-neutral restrooms as they can create additional concerns, but while planning construction I ask you to consider adding these bathrooms in your plan to help students like me feel as though we belong.
As the president of my class grade, I am the one who most people come to tell about the problems they experience in the building. There are queer boys that get made fun of because they walk into the restrooms and other boys think that they like them just because of their sexual orientation. I’ve experienced this myself on many occasions. I know people that have refused to change for gym class because of fear of harassment. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I feel responsible to stand up for myself and my peers that are being harassed based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity.
We need this. Our days in school should be about feeling safe and receiving an education in an inclusive environment, not about avoiding basic needs such as restroom use. Our school district could be an example for other districts. This should not be about politics, rather about safety and inclusion, because this is our second home and we should feel safe and supported here. When kids talk down on queer students or say “that’s gay”, those students don’t want to come to school. As you know, when students not coming to school is making the achievement gap even wider.
Please consider adding gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms inside of Brooklyn Center district buildings. Please consider helping students like me that get stared at, yelled at, or need a staff escort to a restroom that we can use during the school day. Please support ALL BCS students.
Class Grade Student Body President
Update on the letter written by Jesse and the Expect Respect Internship:
The Brooklyn Center School District agreed to make the changes in the upcoming construction period starting in January 2019. Jesse’s brave efforts will change the way LGBTQ+ youth are able to thrive at Brooklyn Center in years to come!