BROKEN ARROW — Violence, whether it be physical or emotional, is unfortunately something our societies have perpetrated for generations, and discrimination thrives in our communities, whether it be based on gender, race or religion. We see it every day on the internet, often in the form of trauma shared by our peers, and we are left wondering where it all began. For many, it started in our schools.

We don’t always label it as racism, xenophobia, sexism or homophobia, instead we call it bullying. Despite anti-bullying campaigns that have become more common, primary school is where many LGBTQ students often see and experience hatred and rejection first hand.

Gender and stigma

A 14-year-old student at Oneta Ridge Middle School in Broken Arrow, where my younger brother attends, tells me that in his school, students have refused to sit next to him, chased him with crosses and told him that he is “going to Hell” simply because he is gay. Actions of hate like these are not physically violent, thankfully, but they have a violent message, one that can lead to homophobia.

When we take a look into the policies of education systems, there are often elements of ignorance when it comes to the identity of LGBTQ students. This is especially present in junior high. Policies that discourage transgender students from using the restroom, separating students by the two genders schools recognize, and other practices that support heteronormative behaviors further confuse LGBTQ students when many student are already struggling. A child’s adolescent years are particularly challenging. Students can feel awkward and unhappy, not only with themselves, but also with education. In fact, studies show that as students progress from elementary to middle school their happiness declines.

School policies regarding student behavior have major effects on the happiness of students and can impact student outlook on education. Some schools have taken steps to separate students by gender in an effort to maintain order. However, I believe separation leads children to the idea that we are different, creating an “us” vs “them” mentality. Sexuality is not something taboo, and it is not something that can be ignored in our education systems. Schools with policies like these can become breeding grounds for the hatred that changes lives forever. We have to do better.

Bad policy can lead to “othering”

At Oneta Ridge Middle School, a new administration took the reigns as of January. Michael Sagely became the new principle over winter break and has implemented new policies concerning student behavior.

In the morning, students arrive at the school and wait to start their day. The students go to either breakfast or to the gym. For gym, they are separated by gender. This can make some LGBTQ students feel awkward. Students tell me they feel pressured to choose between genders when they identify with neither.

Charlie Hannema, director of public relations for Broken Arrow Public Schools, said the policy of separating students who go to the gymnasium in the morning by their gender is the same policy used for schools in the district when students attend PE.

How gender should be defined is something my generation often differs radically with those administering our schools. And how those schools respond to our evolving sense of who we are should be reflected in the policies they implement.

The exclusiveness of gender in schools can lead to hatred against and acts of violence against students. Videos of school administrators barging in on students in the restroom because they didn’t believe they were in the appropriate bathroom, young students receiving death threats online from adults for being transgender, and horrendous actions we never expected, do not happen spontaneously. They start small.