Enduring solitude: Behind the experience of non-cisgender students at EHS
January 15, 2022
Trigger warning: This article includes discussions of transphobia and bullying. Due to safety and privacy reasons, Zephyrus was unable to name current EHS students.
In early 2016, Edina High School alum Jay Kratz (‘18) wore his first binder to school. With two extra pairs of clothes and a bra stowed in their backpack, they walked past a group of high school students—Kratz still remembers the overtly “disgusted and invasive” glances at his chest.
“I felt so uncomfortable from all the looks I got that I never wore a binder to school again,” Kratz said. “It felt very clear to me that expressing my gender fluidity was not welcomed.” He notes that repeated uses of slurs, hostile stares in the hallway, and violent incidents in the men’s restroom created unsafe conditions on campus.
Kratz, like several other transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students, describes a culture of ostracization and disrespect at EHS. Despite administrative efforts to foster “an inclusive school culture” as noted by the district’s mission statement, Edina students and alumni have experienced the opposite.
Adrian Lampron (‘18) remembers being one of the first “very out non-binary students at the high school.” As president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Lampron was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ justice and worked to facilitate district-wide changes on LGBTQ+ rights. Lampron notes that the district’s efforts to improve unity and inclusivity often occurred at the surface, yet remained ineffective as they related to students’ day-to-day experience.
“The day after [EHS’ multicultural and LGBTQ+ performance], I walked out in the hallway to go to the bathroom, and someone in the hallway turned to a friend next to them and was like ‘That’s the transgender,’” Lampron said. “I mean, that’s what you took away?”
The fight for equitable restrooms
During their senior year of high school, Lampron assisted with the planned construction of gender-neutral bathrooms at the high school during EHS’ expansion. Lampron, alongside Assistant Principal Mike Pretasky, hoped that these gender-neutral restrooms would create a more accessible campus for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.
“We wanted to provide a safe space for students, so that everybody felt like the building was tailored to them—a space that reflected our student population,” Pretasky said.
Several new gender-inclusive bathrooms were constructed and strategically placed around high-traffic areas of the school for easy access. However, months after the initial construction, these restrooms were often locked and unavailable due to student misuse and maintenance. During their senior year, Lampron often reminded district administrators to leave the gender-neutral restrooms open for use. Throughout 2016, emails from Lampron to Pretasky alerted administration of the regularly unavailable all-gender restrooms and Pretasky stated these occasions were not “administrative decisions;” however, Lampron recalls the restrooms were still consistently closed, locked, or unavailable after the email exchanges.
“There was nobody who prioritized [equitable restrooms] except me,” Lampron said. “Because I was a senior, it was so hard to feel like I could do anything sustainable—that’s why I had to do the bare minimum, which was just ‘have bathrooms open for people to use.’”
Some students, like Kratz, resorted to alternate solutions rather than encountering locked gender-neutral restrooms. Despite the inaccessibility and inconvenience, he often used the nurse’s restroom and needed to receive regular hall passes for the delay in returning to class. Current Gender and Sexuality (GSA) advisor Kari Discher notes that the group is still working to maintain equitable restroom access—the GSA is hoping to expand the number of gender-neutral restrooms on campus.
Locker rooms at the high school were similarly inaccessible to transgender and non-binary students. Constance Fantin, the mother of a 2020 EHS alum, ultimately paid for her student to take an online gym course for this reason. Although a private changing area had been added, the student didn’t feel comfortable entering the men’s locker room. When the student had attended Valley View Middle School the previous year, the school had paid for them to take an online gym class.
“The second year, we had to pay for it because the high school had made these accommodations. They felt that was good enough, and it just [wasn’t] comfortable,” Fantin said.
“Stuck between a rock and a hard place”: Administrative policy and community response
Fantin felt that while many administrators were independently accommodating towards transgender and non-binary students, this didn’t always result in constructive changes at the school.
“On an individual level, everyone was quite supportive and delightful…I feel like they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to not push things too far for our community where half of us—I think actually it’s more than half of us—want progressive action,” Fantin said. “But there’s a very, very loud conservative group of parents and their students who are just fighting everything tooth and nail.”
Kratz noted that parents’ attitudes in the district were a limiting factor on how much the school was willing to prioritize the needs of transgender and non-binary students.
“They are quite conscious of not pissing off the parents in the broader community,” Kratz said.
Kratz found that when incidents of homophobic bullying were reported to the administration, it rarely resulted in repercussions. Students informally relayed these confrontations to the youth service coordinator at the time, who would then discuss them with the administration. Kratz recalled one case where a trans student was physically “kicked out” of the men’s bathroom by other students.
“I had never heard of anyone having any sort of issues resolved or even addressed by admin directly,” Kratz said.
School policy dictates that when harassment or bullying is reported to the administration, administrators seek permission from the victim involved before beginning an investigation. “And then there could be school consequences. There often are,” Pretasky said. These consequences can consist of a warning and a conversation with parents to pathways, or suspension, and possibly more serious consequences if threats of violence are involved.
“So we do take bullying and harassment very seriously. And we want students to report it to us right away,” Pretasky said.
Unpacking the “culture of exclusion” at EHS
Kratz often observed misgendering and intimidation, both casual and overt, during their school day and at extracurricular activities. The student team leaders of one of his school-led activities began to include pronouns in the team roster when Kratz was a member, which the coach at the time disregarded.
“He saw the they/them pronouns, and he was just disgusted. I mean he was like ‘we’re not doing that’ and kind of just tossed the roster out, and then he never acknowledged it again and just continued using she/her pronouns for me,” Kratz said.
Kratz and Lampron both found support through the high school counseling department. When the gender-inclusive bathrooms were first constructed at the high school, Dylan Hackbarth, EHS counselor, walked the halls with Lampron to create a map of where they were located for students who were unsure. The counseling department also formalized the gender and named pronoun form around the same period.
“For a non-binary or maybe a gender-expansive person…I think it’s core, like essential, that a school is affirming that student’s presence,” Hackbarth said.
Fantin and other parents of non-cisgender students also received encouragement through an informal “network” of families that made Fantin feel “supported in going to the administration” to discuss accommodations for name changes, pronoun use, and gender-inclusive bathrooms.
The overall culture of exclusion at EHS, however, made it difficult for transgender and non-binary students to feel validated.
“I was keeping a pretty positive public-facing image when people would misgender me…But I was very much internally struggling and at home—would be very upset, trying to figure out my gender,” Lampron said.
Though Kratz is approaching his final years of college, their high school experiences remain influential on his identity.
“I didn’t come out until last March…because I had so much residual anxiety around coming out,” Kratz said. “It took me until this year before I finally felt comfortable to actually put a binder on in public again.”
This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on Jan. 13.