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School environment

November 12, 2021

Among students, there are varying perspectives on the level of inclusion of trans and non-binary students at West High. Polyak has a more positive view of the climate.

“Overall, I consider [West High] a fairly accepting place that tries to care for each other, and it has a diverse spectrum of people,” Polyak said.

In comparison, Ham perceives the West High community as not as considerate as it should be.

“It’s not something quite as simple as, ‘I don’t like you.’ Some people can be perfectly clear of that, but here, it’s difficult to tell what people really think. That’s just true of any place with teenagers,” Ham said. “I think they’re supportive but don’t quite understand all of this.”

In recent years, West High traditions have changed to create a more inclusive community. In 2018, a non-traditional homecoming court format, the Heroes of Troy, was introduced to the homecoming dance at West. The former design of homecoming was that a king and queen were the final two people picked. The Heroes of Troy is a gender-neutral way for the student body to recognize six of their classmates without regard to gender categories.

“That felt really good in terms of not having a binary system of nominating kids who are worthy of recognition at school,” Head said. 

This year, the upperclassmen homecoming events, previously known as the Powderpuff and Manball Games, became the Trojan Games. 

“I hope that this is just a small piece of building a more inclusive school,” Head said.

While the Heroes of Troy and the Trojan Games were ideas brought up by students, teachers also try to make West High more welcoming. Dot Spoerl, a paraeducator who uses all pronouns, helped paint the various gender identity and sexual orientation flags at the “Welcome to West” sign. 

“[The flags are] sparking awareness, sparking conversations, sparking curiosity to [think], ‘Maybe I’ve seen that flag before. I wonder what it means,’ and looking into it,” Spoerl said. “Or maybe someone is coming into themselves, and they’re on an identity journey and seeing those flags can help them understand themselves a little more.”

Trans and non-binary individuals at West may also find a sense of understanding and support in COLORS Club. COLORS Club is a community of LGBTQ+ students who come together to simply talk in a comfortable environment.

“[COLORS Club] is just really accepting—it’s a safe place to hang out with people who kind of understand me,” Dillon said.

Barnhouse, the COLORS Club advisor, witnesses students benefiting from the club.

“[In COLORS Club], I notice that they suddenly come out of their shell, and they become much more social,” Barnhouse said. “They feel like they finally have a place.”

Resources like the University of Iowa LGBTQ Health Clinic also provide a safe space and free mental health care for trans and non-binary students.

“Having an LGBTQ Counseling Clinic signaled to me that I would have support and acceptance here. I hope that is increasingly true for trans students everywhere,” said Calyn Leake, associate director of the clinic.

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