During the recent Greenbrier County Board of Education meeting, held on Tuesday, November 9, representatives from Greenbrier Valley Pride addressed the reported harassment of a transgender student which was said to have occurred during the Greenbrier East High School Homecoming parade on Tursday, October 28. The incident resulted in the disciplinary-suspension of one student-athlete, a suspension which has since been mitigated.
GEHS alumnus and current President of Greenbrier Valley Pride Kelsie Tyson was the first to speak.
“It is our understanding that, although the school’s bigotry was addressed at an assembly, there has been a question of the behavior continuing up to this school day,” Tyson said, as she began her remarks. “There are two sides to this – the bigots, and those being targeted by bigotry. As both former students and the parents of current students within the county school system, we demand that you share this report of marginalized youth within our community. It is not the time to use the ‘there are very fine people on both sides’ argument. The recent actions at the Greenbrier East Homecoming parade are indicative of the kind of harassment and violence that people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and other marginalized communities have endured for decades. It is up to leaders like you to protect the children in our community. We don’t expect our non-marginalized youths to understand these values inherently. That is where you, the adults, and administrators of this community have to stand up for marginalized kids and teach these values to the rest of the student-body through action.”
Tyson went on to say, “The punishment given to the aggressor is inadequate, and prioritizes the well-being of the aggressor and the athletics at the detriment of the mental health and safety of the students targeted. [ ] West Virginia has the highest, per capita, number of trans-youth, with 1.4% of West Virginians aged 13 to 17 identifying as transgender, according to a national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health. 60% of trans and non-binary students have engaged in self-harm as a result of discrimination and harrassment as a result of their gender-identity. These statistics are a testament to the need for more help protecting trans-students in the Greenbrier County school system.”
Tyson concluded by saying, “It is with urgency that we turn to the board, and Greenbrier East High School, and demand steps be taken to protect trans-youth when faced with this kind of public harassment, without minimizing the actions to protect a high school football game. Teach these kids better about tolerance and empathy, as well as facing the full consequences of their actions.”
Next to speak was current secretary of Greenbrier Valley Pride, Lyra “Bobby” Bordelon.
“I am a graduate of East, and I moved here when I was about 11. Good times at the school,” Bordelon began. “But I’m speaking here tonight as a member of Pride, specifically because I am trans. I am here because not ‘being out’ was my experience. I am here to advocate for those kids who have had the courage to be out as youths. Most of my friends call me Lyra, I don’t typically go by Bobby anymore. I’ve been on life-changing medication for 10-months now, and I’ve never actually been alive before. I didn’t know that until pretty recently.”
After a short pause, Bordelon continued.
“I made it, and I was one of the lucky ones. [ ] I did pretty well (in school). I was involved in the band. I was involved in the newspaper – I didn’t know that was going to turn into a career. But I managed. And with all the little things that would be said to me, by the end of the day, I was usually frozen by the time I got home. It was very difficult for me to make it. I did what I could, how I could, as fast as I could.
I don’t blame the board for this, this is not on you. [ ] I wish that there had been more comprehensive sexual education, because frankly I did not know there was a thing I needed to come out as. Not all of us do. It would have changed my life to have had that information when I was 11. When I was 18. [ ] I didn’t ask for protection because I didn’t know that I was queer, to be frank. And it’s not your fault. But the thing is, what’s happening now is your responsibility.
To quote a trans-kid that I speak to who is in your school system right now, quote ‘I do not feel safe in my own school because of the discrimination that goes on here.’ I hear from him on a daily basis, and that is the thing I hear from here on a daily basis. And I don’t mean this for shock value, but this is a comment that is made to them on a daily basis, and I get those phone calls: ‘quote, I thought you were a boy, fag. Why are you in this bathroom?’ The thing that usually follows this is some kind of answer like ‘can I just not use the bathroom without being harassed?’”
Bordelon became emotional while sharing the recent experiences of students attending GEHS.
“I ask you to imagine living with this on a daily basis,” Bordelon went on to say. “And then when a bully decides to take action to try to suppress this because of some malinformed bigotry, imagine that the bully just decides to harass them in full view of the public. And the student, instead of defending them, there is a universal call that the student should be un-suspended because he did not do anything wrong. Then the bully is allowed to participate, their suspension mitigated and moved to allow them to participate in a football match. [ ] I’m not intending to shame him and call him out by name, that is not what I’m here for. I am here to ask the board to protect these kids at all costs. To be anti-bullying is to be explicitly and loudly anti-bigotry.”
Bordelon took a moment to verbalize the problem in a larger sense, saying, “It extends to the further community. These kids, when they leave school, they are not immune to it. [ ] To quote a teacher that spoke at a recent town hall, quote ‘I am a teacher employed by Greenbrier County Schools. I work hard. I do my job. To my knowledge, if I choose not to call a transgender student what he/she wants me to call him/her, I could be fired. I will not encourage confused students toward this!’”
Bordelon concluded by rebutting that teacher’s comments, saying “I have never been less confused in my life, and I don’t want that forgotten. [ ] I’m asking you to protect these kids.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Although Lyra “Bobby” Bordelon is an employee and featured reporter with The West Virginia Daily News, she spoke at the Board of Education meeting in a personal capacity, and not as a representative of the newspaper. With that being said, however, The West Virginia Daily News stands both with and behind Lyra “Bobby” Bordelon and Greenbrier Valley Pride in their efforts to strengthen the community in which we live. We could not be more proud of Lyra and Kelsie for their comments to the board.
– Matthew Young, managing editor