LGBTQ+ Struggles at Stuy

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According to the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group’s survey of youths ages 13 to 20, also known as Generation Z (Gen Z), only 48 percent identified as heterosexual. The remaining 52 percent identified as LGBTQ+ or questioning. Though they may not all be LGBTQ+, this shows that there is less of an expectation of heterosexuality and a more accepting mindset in Gen Z. 56 percent of 12- to 20-year-olds said that they knew someone who used the gender pronouns “they/them,” or “ze.” Over a third of respondents strongly agreed that gender identity does not define a person, demonstrated in the 44 percent of respondents who said they always bought clothes designed for their own gender. This survey also showed that Gen Z strongly feels that public spaces should provide access to gender-neutral bathrooms, with 70 percent supporting the cause. In The Spectator’s senior survey of the class of 2019, almost 20 percent of students identified as something other than straight.

With so much of our generation identifying as LGBTQ+, it is important that our school is a safe and supportive place for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Fortunately, most of the LGBTQ+ students at Stuyvesant seem to agree that it is a rarity to see personal homophobic attacks against individual students. Sophomore Julian Cunningham, who identifies as bisexual and uses the pronouns “he/him,” said, “When I hear derogatory words, [such as] gay [being] used as an insult, I don’t necessarily feel threatened by them. It’s not them being super homophobic; I don’t think it’s them saying that if there were a gay person here, they would be blocked, banned, [or] not okay.”

Junior Eleanor Loprest, who identifies as asexual and uses the pronouns “they/them,” said, “I feel like the general population of Stuyvesant has a weird attitude toward LGBTQ+ people. There’s a combination of casual homophobia but tolerance toward actual LGBTQ+ people. There’s this constant presence of overhearing homophobic jokes just walking around the halls at Stuy.” However, this is only in certain communities, specifically those lacking in LGBTQ+ members and allies. Overall, Cunningham believes that “Stuyvesant is one of the most accepting places one could possibly be,” he said.

Students at Stuyvesant are typically accepting of whatever a person identifies as. Junior Star Garcia, who uses the pronouns “he/him” and is questioning sexual orientation, said, “[Students] kinda just take it and don’t really ask questions.” Loprest, on the other hand, has a slightly different opinion. While Loprest believes that “everyone is generally very open-minded about everyone else’s sexuality in addition to their own,” they said, Loprest also believes that there are exceptions to this generalization. “It seems as though the entire student body... is not actually homophobic except for a select few, but I’ve definitely gotten homophobic jokes to my face,” they said.

Nevertheless, there are instances of outright homophobia/transphobia. Junior Kiran Vuksanaj, who uses the “she/her/hers” pronouns and identifies as transgender recounts for us in an e-mail: “While it seems as though the majority of people at Stuy are supportive or at least tolerant of LGBTQ+ people, there is some part of the student body [that tend to make homophobic remarks or throw around the f-slur, and they tend to be much louder than most. That, in combination with the fact that most people don’t make any effort to confront those people about their homophobia, makes it feel as though the community overall is much less accepting.”

As allies, students can show their support in a number of ways and can still improve. Garcia explained, “If you have friends who are LGBTQ+, you should be able to support them and try your best to be educated on the history, culture, and current events. You don’t have to show up at every protest, but just being aware of the causes is the best thing you can do.” To be a more supportive student body, it is important that allies are educated on the LGBTQ+ community, history, and the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations.

There are more than a few students who manage to educate themselves, but allies come in tiers. Vuksanaj stated, “There are the people who are passively fine with or supportive of the community but don’t really make an effort to learn about the community unless they know someone personally. And then there are the allies who might come to a Spectrum meeting or really know about the community, and they know quite [a lot] about the entirety of the queer community and have often been able to help me in situations where I need to confront someone about misgendering me or something similar. There are the people who are allies in name, who don’t know much about us, and then there are the people I consider to be the strongest allies, who are really, really great.

The teachers also make an effort to accomodate their students. Loprest shared that while students try to memorize and use the correct pronouns, “teachers have been a little bit worse about it; some have just prefered to refer to me by my name or just kind of ignore the fact that I don’t use she/her,” they said. Garcia added, “My teachers are pretty supportive. They’re willing to learn about your preferred name and pronouns, anything you need them to know about you.”

Though Loprest has faced some difficulties with their teachers, they have never been outrightly discriminated against. They described, “I’ve gotten a slight amount of passive-aggression from certain teachers. I might mention my pronouns offhand, and the teacher would be like, “Okay,” like that disbelieving sort of “Mhm.” There are a few homophobic teachers at Stuy [who] I won’t name, but there are names to be named. A lot of the teachers basically don’t understand a lot about modern gender and sexuality. Some of them are pretty chill about it; some of them prefer not to bother trying to learn these things because they are confused and slightly afraid.”

Vuksanaj has come to a similar conclusion. She described, “With almost all of them, there’s difficulty with using the correct pronouns all of the time, but the majority of them recognize when they’ve made a mistake and will handle it in a good way, apologizing to me after class and rarely making the mistake a second time. There are certain teachers that are much much worse about it, either not understanding or being vaguely resentful about the fact that it’s something they have to accept.

However, most students agree that teachers at Stuyvesant are pretty understanding and supportive of the LGBTQ+ students. Some teachers and counselors stand out. For example, Garcia and Cunningham both mentioned Jessica Chock-Goldman and Joseph Feola as trusted adults they feel comfortable going to. All of the interviewees believed that there is someone at the school they can talk to about their gender and/or sexual orientation, and, if there were an incident of bullying or harassment took place, they would feel safe confiding in.

A guarantee of safety and someone to confide in concerning these issues are two ways our school proves to be a generally accepting place, but there are other ways we can show our support for the LGBTQ+ community. Classes could make more of an effort to incorporate the LGBTQ+ community in our curriculum. Garcia pointed out,“With languages such as Spanish, where everything is gendered and there are no neutral pronouns, you need to be informed.” And as Loprest suggested, a few electives devoted to LGBTQ+ literature and history would go a long way to educate both the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

There’s definitely room for improvement, and we can start with including more gender-neutral bathrooms at Stuyvesant. The absence of these bathrooms forces people who don’t identify as cisgender into an uncomfortable position. Loprest, who does not feel comfortable in either the girls’ or boys’ bathroom, is forced to use either the bathrooms in the nurse’s office or the single gender-neutral bathroom on the fifth floor, which is “generally either populated by people having sex or a bunch of freshmen boys who cannot pee in a straight line,” they said. This also poses a problem with the changing rooms, creating even more congestion. Loprest said, “I would appreciate immensely a couple more gender-neutral bathrooms, especially if we can have a multi-stall one somewhere. There are a lot of bathrooms in this school. I don’t think it’ll be too complicated to just stick a sign that says ‘all-gender.’”

Overall, Stuyvesant is a school that, while supportive and welcoming, has many opportunities to improve as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Garcia, president of Spectrum, stated “We have a lot of problems left behind by the older generations, but we’re here, and as long we’re here, we’re going to do our best to fix it in all areas.” Cunningham, though he appreciates the community, acknowledged, “People are trying to make an effort, and I think it’s only going to go uphill from here.”