Written by Rebecca Urato ‘21
For sophomore Hutch Castelao, being misgendered and excluded because of their gender identity has become the norm. “Being misgendered is something I hate, but at the same time, I don’t have enough confidence to tell people about it,” Castelao said. For many non-binary people, fighting for gender inclusion is an uphill battle. The expectation to identify as exclusively male or female is a hard reality for those who are genderqueer, which is more of a reason for why schools should be a beacon of acceptance for all students.
For more than 50 years, the Durham Academy mission statement has stated the following:
Durham Academy’s mission statement was not just created to describe the purpose of the school, but to reflect the reality of the student body. Fifty years ago, there may not have been many students who openly identified as gender nonconforming. However, times are changing, and the traditional she/him pronouns are no longer inclusive enough. According to a survey published by GLAAD, a media monitoring organization promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance, 20% percent of millenials identify as LGBTQ, and the number seems to increase with each younger generation. Lanis Wilson, Upper School Director and a strong proponent of the mission statement believes that “the pronouns used in the mission statement must reflect the proper names of each DA student. If some students are not being represented, then we should listen to that.”
Durham Academy’s GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) originally proposed the idea to change the pronouns “him/her” used in the mission statement to “them” in order to make it more inclusive. The GSA is “a club that aims to try and make DA as loving a place as possible,” explained Davi Sapiro-Gheiler, co-leader of the club. “If DA is trying to promote itself as diverse, then this [mission statement change] is a way to include students that define themselves as nonbinary in a way that is institutionalized. Implicit support is still support, but it is better to explicitly say that we recognize these identities and we support them.” Sapiro-Gheiler wants to see this change spark conversations among the school’s Board of Trustees, faculty and students about diversity. He added, “We concentrate a lot on diversity when it comes to race and religion, but it seems that genderqueer identities are often left behind.”
Harry Thomas, Upper School English teacher and faculty advisor to the GSA club, believes that school requires a system of trust and acceptance between faculty and students, and all students’ gender identities should be appreciated. “As teachers, we often ask students to be vulnerable,” Thomas said. “It’s not fair to try and start school from a position of not recognizing a student or not acknowledging that one’s gender identity exists.”
But, what does this mean for the future of DA?
If this change to the mission statement is passed by the board, then the only changes should be positive. All gender expressions will be accepted at no expense to the cisgender students. For the non-binary students, this will be the first step towards complete inclusivity.
Castelao, who uses they/them pronouns, is very hopeful that the mission statement will change. “It’s small, but at the same time, the smallest things lead to the largest things,” they said. “This will help DA to become more of a place where gender non-conforming students can completely understand that they are accepted here.”
While this newfound acceptance is of utmost importance to students like Castelao and Sapiro-Gheiler, it will also give non-binary students more of a voice and an environment to advocate for their identity. “Many students that do not identify as the traditional he/her continue to question what they can do to make the mission statement more accepting,”Castelao said. “But they don’t feel as if they can stand up, so nothing gets changed. This change will give non-binary students a voice to defend who we are.”
Dr. Thomas also believes that this change would be impactful for non-binary students, while not harming the majority of the student body in any way. “For the vast majority of the students, the change that we are making wouldn’t mean anything, and wouldn’t affect them in any kind of way,” he said. “But I think that for the minority of students that use they/them pronouns, it is a really nice gesture of acknowledgment in our community. If it’s no loss to me, and we can be inclusive, why not do it?”
High school is a difficult time for time for all teenagers; students are constantly burdened with deciding their futures and figuring out who they are. Nevertheless, we have the power as a community to ensure that all students are recognized based on their gender expression and identity.