Walking into the high school library, an array of books line every wall. People may come in and out of the library for a new book, to print an assignment, or scramble to finish late homework during lunch. But now, visiting the library can include picking up a pronoun pin at the front desk, and the option to print other pronouns is offered as well.
A pronoun is a word used to describe a person in place of a noun or their name. There are many different pronouns that people use. To be cisgender is to have a gender identity that corresponds with the sex assigned at birth. A person may not use pronouns or a name assigned at birth, but no matter what they choose to go by, it is crucial that they are respected.
There are many ways to practice using correct pronouns. One of the high school librarians, Ms. Amy Fiske explains how consistent practice helps her.
“I would practice in my car because I’m always alone in my car. I would tell stories about these students that I knew and practice using the right pronouns,” said Fiske.
Asking for people’s pronouns hasn’t begun to become normalized until recent years. Now, most teachers at the high school are handing out questionnaires or asking students their pronouns on the first day of school.
“I think it all comes down to, everyone should feel a sense of authentic belonging, and everyone should be able to be and express who they are. Something as simple as pronouns- it’s really just not difficult. Of all the things that are difficult: school or life, asking somebody their pronouns or telling somebody your pronouns isn’t that difficult,” said Mr. Bennett, an English teacher at the high school.
Asking everyone for their pronouns is important because it doesn’t spotlight those who aren’t cisgender.
“I think it’s just to make sure that people in your community feel safer and more accepted. You don’t know who in your life is trans. If you look at the statistics, you probably know someone who is trans, even if they’re not out,” said a member of the LGBTQ+ Student Environment Team.
When someone tells you their pronouns, it’s also important to respect who they are and what they ask to be called by.
“The thing is, whoever it is knows their pronouns better than you do obviously. So, if they say something, go with them. Trust them. Don’t criticize the pronouns. Don’t question them,” said the member. “Don’t ask them to explain them.”
At the high school, the LGBTQ+ Student Environment Team is a club that is transgender student focused, and works towards achieving administrative change. The club also holds meetings afterschool on Tuesdays.
“The two founders were non-binary trans people. Some of the things we’re trying to do are making it easier for students to get their correct name on things, bathrooms, and we’re trying to roll out a course for teachers to be less transphobic,” said one of the club leaders, Ren Martinian ‘24.
Some of the past achievements of the activism club include, creating an informational course for teachers, implementing changes in the health classes’ curriculum, and bathroom-related changes. This coming year, the LGBTQ+ Student Environment Team hopes to address the administrative issue of students’ deadnames in PowerSchool and Canvas.
“I would like to see a better use of people’s actual names because your legal name is only really needed on a few documents. You need it on your graduation stuff and you need it on your report cards, but that’s basically it. It frustrates me how our school is very insistent that you cannot change the other stuff,” said Martinian.
Martinian explained how in middle school, he didn’t remember being asked for pronouns too often, highlighting the changes that have been made in recent years. Despite the additions made, he still notes that some teachers don’t ask.
“I came out publicly last year right when we went full in person, and I asked my teachers to go around and ask [for students’ pronouns]. A couple of them did not, but the majority of them did,” said Martinian.
Though most teachers ask, some students feel that the change ends there, as pronouns they put down on paper aren’t well respected.
“Not all of the teachers use the information that you give them. I’ve seen a lot of teachers who’ve asked for your pronouns, but don’t respect what you put on the sheet. Even if you put something down, I still think teachers misgender somebody,” said the member of the team.
Simply asking for pronouns isn’t enough, however. The club also highlights the importance of classmates to use correct pronouns for each other, not just the teachers, in order to establish a safe learning environment.
“I’ve also seen teachers not pay attention to whatever they ask. Or, your teacher should know your pronouns and that’s good, but your classmates also need to. So, it’s not really enough to just give out the form,” said the member.
A desire for changes to the curriculum have also been expressed. Though they note the difficulty of implementing curriculum based changes, the club hopes that more LGBTQ+ authors and history lessons will be added in the future.
“It’s just those little things that normalize being queer in everyday society,” said another member of the team.
The Phillips House Assistant Principal, Mr. Andrew Kelton, explained the relationship between fostering a positive learning environment and using people’s correct pronouns.
“If our objective is to assist students in learning, people have to feel like they’re welcome in a space before they can make themselves vulnerable to the process of learning,” said Kelton.
The implementation of asking for pronouns at the high school wasn’t sudden, but it wasn’t mandated. These changes took a more organic form as some teachers began to make the individual choice to ask, while others had trouble adjusting.
“For some people, there was confusion. There were some faculty members that didn’t understand. So there was a faculty meeting where we had to just educate people on the use of pronouns, which was super helpful,” said Kelton.
In recent years, the administration has worked towards creating a more diverse curriculum for students in Health, History, and English. The shift to creating English and History classes is being done on a district level, from elementary to high school as well.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if you’re ever done. I think it’s always an ongoing thing. So, we’re in that process. I feel like people feel really good about the direction we’re going and what we’ve done thus far,” said Kelton.
One aspect that Kelton notes the school could do a better job of is advertising how to report biased based incidents. Dr. Charmie Curry, the head of the DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] created a form anyone can fill out to report biased based incidents.
“Equity matters. Equity matters. And so, we’re at our best in this school when everybody feels welcome. Diverse and when people are open, honest, and their true selves, and the fullness of our school’s diversity is on display for everyone to see, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” said Kelton.
It is crucial for the high school to be a safe and welcoming space for all students. Students feel that many changes still need to be made in order for that to happen. One member of the LGBTQ+ Student Environment team leaves a final word:
“I would like the school administration to take homophobia and transphobia a lot more seriously than they do. Especially even the teachers because a lot of times I’ve seen homophobia and transphobia, but there have been no preventive measures taken.”