Hello, my name is ___ : Students discuss implications of House Bill 1608 on “Human Sexuality Instruction” and the ability to use preferred names and pronouns

March 15, 2023

Editor’s note: As per our anonymous policy in our mission statement, Crier provides anonymity if and only if the content matter is of high importance and if identification could bring possible harm towards the individual or others. The two sources granted anonymity were done with the goal of not forcing any transgender students to identify themselves if they chose not to. 

Rowen Cohs, freshman, starts out his school days like any other student. He pulls up his laptop, opens up Microsoft Edge, set on getting his work done. Unlike any other student though, what he sees on the screen stops him in his tracks. Nearly each day, he sees a pop-up about yet another bill targeting transgender students: one preventing kids from receiving gender-affirming care, another preventing students from changing their preferred name.

“Sometimes I just have to close my computer and take a break,” Rowen said. “I’ll be having a good day, and I’ll open my computer up and see five pop ups of lawmakers trying to get things outlawed and it’s disappointing. It just forces me to think about my whole entire future, and I’m just supposed to be doing my work.”

HB 1608, is one of several proposed bills circulating throughout Indiana. If passed, it will not allow human sexuality to be taught to students in kindergarten through third grade, and would not allow a student to go by a preferred name or pronouns that are not consistent with their sex without parent permission. The bill that has already passed the House and is moving onto the Senate. 

The reasoning behind such a bill reflects a concern amongst several parents that they should discuss sexuality with their students, rather than teachers. Rowen, however, worries that the bill would ruin the community he has established at MHS. At a previous school, he was not allowed to go by his preferred name or pronouns and went through school-mandated therapy. 

“My teachers had known me since I was little, and treated me being transgender like it was this horrible thing that they couldn’t recognize,” Rowen said. “So, it was really great to be able to tell people my name and pronouns at MHS, and for others to not look at me like I was crazy or weird. It just feels so freeing to be able to use that and not have to face any consequences. Being able to go by what I want to go by, it’s created a lot of happiness for me. The bill would create so many problems at home, and they would obviously seep into the school.”

Mr. John Castro, President of the Munster School Board, stated that currently, neither the bill nor its ideas of parental transparency are a concern for Munster parents. From the perspective of the board, he reflected that the issue has yet to come up, especially as the bill has yet to be passed. 

Gay-Straight Alliance has discussed the bill; however, at their most recent meeting, the students wrote letters to their representatives about the bill. Mr. Ben Boruff, GSA sponsor, described the overall atmosphere of the meeting: frustration and anger. He believes that the bill hinders a school’s ability to provide safe spaces for students. 

“This is perhaps one of the sadder kinds of responses that some of the students had—that this is just another drop in the bucket of discrimination,” Mr. Boruff said. “It’s one thing for a student to walk into the room and know, ‘Mr. B supports me,’ but if I can’t say certain things to vocalize that support, it’s a different dynamic. It’s a less effective dynamic, and one that will ultimately hurt our students.”

HB 1608 has not been passed, but not having names or pronouns being respected by teachers is an experience that many transgender students go through. An anonymous sophomore shared an instance when a teacher at MHS who, no matter how many times they were corrected, still did not use the student’s preferred pronouns. The source had even corrected the teacher during class, which caused a lot of stress for the sophomore because they were outed to the whole class.  

“Every time I walked into that class, I just absolutely hated it,” an anonymous sophomore said. “A couple of times, I almost had a panic attack—the class caused a bunch of people that did not want to know, to know and I can’t predict how they are going to treat me after that.”

Parents are not the only advocates for this bill. Some students find that the bill isn’t necessarily an attack on LGBTQ+ rights, but that it reflects an overarching goal: parents should be more involve in education, and they have the right to teach their children. 

“Parents should be more involved in education,” Patrick Cullars, senior, said. “The parents or the person who is in charge of the student, act in their best interest, and it’s ultimately no place for public schools, an arm of the government. It’s no place for the government to tell or to have to keep that from parents—it’s also dangerous for the parents not to know about it.”

An anonymous senior shared that they no longer go by their preferred name in part because of HB 1608 not making them feel safe. In that period of time, what stands out to the source is Mr. Steven Stepnoski, English teacher. He had never mixed up their preferred name with what was written in PowerSchool and made them feel as if it was never a big deal—a vital part in making Mr. Stepnoski’s English class a safe learning environment.

 “It was a really validating experience for me because it finally felt like I did not have to fight to be seen,” Anonymous senior said. “I did not have to fight to be respected like all of my other peers were respected and called their correct names. That was something that to Mr. Stepnoski was probably super small and insignificant, but something that I’m going to remember forever.”

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