“I have never felt fully safe on campus in all my years here,” said nonbinary special education teacher Jacob (he/they), who does not use their last name except in a legal context. Many transgender or nonbinary teachers the Jacket interviewed reported having very polar experiences. How can Berkeley High School (BHS) help teachers feel safe and validated on campus?
Jacob talked about his very mixed experience as a nonbinary teacher at BHS. They said, “There is less homophobia on campus than there was a decade ago, but it’s still prevalent. I hear what I hear and I see what I see, and I’m an adult. [But] I think I would have felt far safer here than at my alma mater, and I am grateful this place exists.”
For many teachers, there is a stark contrast between BHS and other schools. Sam Matsumoto (she/they), a film photography teacher at BHS, said, “Berkeley High in general is much more accepting; the different kinds of family structures and gender expressions than at the last school that I worked at.” Jacob echoed Matsumoto’s sentiment, expressing that he felt “very fortunate to be working here.”
Although many teachers spoke about enjoying their experience as a part of the BHS community, not everything has been favorable. Jacob spoke of hate speech and misgendering on campus. “I don’t think people at school are getting more prejudiced though, I just think we have a very, very long way to go. … We, the staff, but more importantly admin, and the district, broadly, need to work a lot harder on these issues. A lot harder.”
Jacob has been indirectly called the f-slur by students on campus. Blatant misgendering has not gone unnoticed and is hurtful for him and many of their colleagues.
The introduction of pronouns to the non-queer population is rather new, beginning in the past couple of years. Often at the start of the school year, a teacher will state their pronouns and the title they prefer. “Mx.” is now much more common. Matsumoto said, “It was actually students who brought [using Mx.] up to me! I hadn’t really thought about it before.”
Teachers whose careers have felt satisfactory at BHS have experiences that diverge to a great degree from those who have not felt the same.
Laura Gorrin (they/them), a math teacher in Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), urged BHS staff and administration to create more accessible resources for students. “Having more gender-neutral bathroom options, more consistent education in classrooms, and helping students understand pronouns would make the high school experience better for everyone involved,” Gorrin said.
Jacob believes that “technological issues with deadnaming should not be happening as often as they do.” Frequently, new or substitute teachers will use students’ legal names instead of their preferred names. This can create feelings of gender dysphoria, leading to serious anxiety around roll-call.
Matsumoto and Noah Laroia-Nguyen (they/them), a film photography student-teacher, both explained that Title IX can be connected back to trans and nonbinary issues. Although Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination, it can protect the trans community as well, securing better rights for trans and nonbinary students.
As Laroia-Nguyen put it, “Title IX is not just a cis-gendered woman’s issue.” Laroia-Nguyen believes that it needs to be revisited and amended. Matsumoto agreed, asking, “Are there protections in the workplace [for teachers having different gender expression]?”
Jacob stated, “I expect that making myself more visible in the campus consciousness as an out trans person will open me up to more verbal abuse, though to be clear, also I expect it to come from students and not staff.” They expressed worry: “If adults are being addressed this way for presenting as LGBTQA+, I can’t imagine what our students are experiencing when we’re not around.”
On the contrary, Matsumoto was grateful for the BHS community. They said they have “never felt unsafe here in terms of being able to be [themself].” Laroia-Nguyen said, “Being trans and nonbinary is great. It should be celebrated.”