High Schoolers In Vermont Are Wearing “Straight Pride” T-Shirts In Response To Transgender Bathroom Laws

The entire United States may have its eyes on North Carolina because of HB2, the law that forces transgender people to use the restroom that correlates with the gender they were assigned at birth instead of their true gender identity, but it’s not the only place where this issue is hotly debated. Green Mountain Union High School in Vermont has gained national attention after a group of students rallied together to protest a transgender bathroom policy at their school with “Straight Pride” T-shirts. Yes, you read that correctly. The world truly is a rolling dumpster fire.

The group was started after the rural school revealed a new policy to allow trans students to choose the bathroom they needed to use. The straight “pride” (hate? yeah, let’s say hate) group was started by a young (and obviously “straight”) couple who felt like the rights of few were interfering with the rights of the majority. The male leader of the group, Tanner Bischofberger, defended his choice to start the group by basically repeating transphobic things he has heard from adults around him:

“It’s like me going into a girls’ bathroom wearing a wig. It’s just weird.”

The school’s transgender bathroom policy started after 16-year-old AJ Jackson, a trans male, used the boys’ bathroom and caused other students to complain. Students who supported Jackson rallied around him and the school superintendent put the current policy in place just one day before President Obama told all public schools to allow transgender students to have a choice. Shortly after, the “Straight Pride” parade came marching.

And now it’s become a war between students. Some people are losing friends over differences of opinions while other students feel conflicted between their traditional beliefs and not wanting to infringe on others’ rights. Daniel Baldwin, a student at the school, felt that people should use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth but would readily defend a person like AJ if someone was being transphobic.

This isn’t the first time that “Straight Pride” T-shirts have been at the center of a high school counter-protest. In 2010, several students at St. Charles North High School in Chicago were allowed to wear straight pride shirts with Bible verses on them, even though other students said the shirts were offensive to LGBTQ students. The school’s Director of School and Community Relations, Jim Blaney, said it was simply a way to allow students to “find their way through this new world” …whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

The “Straight Pride” initiators at Green Mountain Union High School are dealing with a bit of expected backlash of their own. Students who are supportive of the new bathroom policy for trans students have called Bischofberger and his girlfriend Mariah “cisgendered, hypocritical homophobes” (fair!) and even taped their names to a trash can (oh, high school). Ya know, to indicate that their “Straight Pride” T-shirts are garbage.

Of course, the couple says they cannot be homophobic because two of their favorite teachers are gay. I bet they have a black friend too.

However, the person who is really dealing with the most backlash is the student at the center of the debate: AJ Jackson. AJ, who used to be known to his classmates as Autumn, was close friends with Daniel Baldwin but they have now drifted further apart. He realized his true identity as a middle schooler, but did not publicly come out as trans until 9th grade. This year, he decided to use the boys’ restroom and has endured cold stares, looks of confusion, and quiet whispers as he uses the bathroom, despite trying to wait for times when he thinks he will be alone. As a young person who is trying to figure out this confusing thing called life, navigating the world as a trans person has to make the process even more difficult. Luckily, AJ has the full support of his mother, who protested for the current policy after she was notified of the initial complaint against her son.

The “Straight Pride” debate at Green Mountain will certainly be one of many that will come over the next few years as the trans people are given the right to use the restroom space they choose. High schoolers are no different than adults – they have opposing views and sometimes it’s hard to get them to understand a struggle they don’t identify with as a person. Tanner and other students lack of understanding about trans people (who are not — I can’t believe we still have to clarify this — just putting on wigs to sneak in a bathroom) probably stems from his lack of exposure to people who are not cisgender. Does it make their views right? No. But, I’m hoping that years from now they look back on this and see how “Straight Pride” shirts aren’t necessary because straight is considered the acceptable “norm.” Perhaps they will realize it’s OK to be cis-het yet still believe in the civil rights of others in a changing world!