Packer’s New Approach and Policies towards Gender Neutrality
Recently, Packer has made significant strides towards making the community a safer and more accepting space for students and faculty across the gender spectrum. As a means to demonstrate the increased discussion and explanation of the spectrum, the school has developed ways in which they are going to take action towards creating a safe environment.
“Last year a gender task force was developed in an effort to think about how we can really shift our community from being Packer as it’s always been to a trans-affirming community space,” said Semeka Smith-Williams, director of diversity and equity.
Packer strove to achieve their goal by not only installing a gender-neutral bathroom, but also by changing the mission statement to be non gender specific.
“The very last line [of the statement] said ‘women and men’, but now it says ‘individuals’,” said Karen Brandt, chair of the health department.
This year, however, the school aims to integrate the topic of gender neutrality into classrooms and integrate its discussion into the lives of students and parents. Students spend time in health classes expanding the limitation of binary genders through discussion and observation. Through these activities, the school attempts to be a place of liberal expression and safe spaces to share how one truly orients themselves.
“We really wanted to do an educational push, ” said Mrs. Brandt.
Parents, on the other hand, come from a multitude of backgrounds, some much more conservative than others. The school held a meeting called “Gender 101” that intended to give Packer parents a safe space to discuss the spectrum. The meeting gave insight into the school’s mission to make the community a safer place for people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, especially those who identify as transgender or gender neutral.
“We have been talking to students for so many years about gender and gender issues,” said Ms. Brandt. “We haven’t had that same conversation with parents, and they were asking for this.”
Carolyn Happy, a parent who also attended the meeting commented on her experience.
“It was set up as a way to give parents a parallel experience of what you all have in conversations in the classrooms with the health department,” said Carolyn.
At the meeting, Parents were able to express their insecurities and experiences with sharing their gender identity, and gain insight to the (RAPH) type of education students were getting on the gender spectrum at Packer.
The efforts made by the health department have not gone unnoticed by students.
“[Adding the bathroom] is a really huge improvement. Bathrooms are one of the biggest issues when it comes to transgender rights, in terms of wondering which one is allowed to be used in an institution,” said Ellie Happy (‘19).
“By putting in the Gender Neutral Bathroom, Packer not only shows that they are accepting of transgender people, but also people all over the gender spectrum.”
The importance of giving students and community members their right to detach from the labels of the gender binary has a much bigger global implication. Unfortunately, the progression being made at Packer towards accounting for the needs of people all over the spectrum isn’t as prevalent in other parts of the country. In North Carolina, the House Bill 2 law (otherwise known as HB2) was passed, which rules that one must use the bathroom of the gender that they were associated with at birth despite how they currently identify. The law also rids the LGBTQ+ community of anti-discriminatory protection under the state. Although the implementation of the gender-neutral bathroom at Packer could be seen a small and merely cosmetic change, providing support and amenities for people all over the spectrum is a step towards advocating for the equality of LGBTQ+ community as a whole.