As countless surveys and reports have shown, LGBTQ+ youth experience higher rates of bullying, violence, and isolation than their cisgender, heterosexual peers. Trans youth, especially, have a tough time in school. When looking at violence on a structural level and considering, say, the intersections of gender identity and class or sexual orientation and race, for example, we can pull out even more concerning numbers. We also know support and allyship can make a huge difference in not just basic safety, but also community and emotional safety.
In a now-viral video posted to TikTok, a Black high school student in Knoxville, Tennessee, says he and a peer stood up for one of their classmates, who is openly trans, when they were being harassed by fellow students because of their gender identity, as reported by LGBTQ Nation. Sounds like a great example of bravery that should be praised, no? Well, according to one student who says they were locked into a classroom while two or three police officers stood outside the door, the assistant principal of the school instead called the cops—and not on the bullies.
“I’m being suspended right now at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee because I stuck up for a trans woman,” Willum, who shared the video to TikTok under the username @willum4606, says at the start of the video. “I stuck up for a trans woman, and she has the freaking police outside.”
According to the video, Willum and another student stood up when a trans peer was being deadnamed. Willum alleges that the bullies did not face any repercussions, but that he and his peer did. He alleges that he was described as “combative” and “threatening” when he says he asked why he was being suspended and what was going on.
Willum says he was told he was being suspended because he used profanity while sticking up for his peer. “She said I was using profanity,” Willum states, though the specific ‘she’ in reference is not named in the video. “Okay, so what, what are you gonna do about the actual bullies that were making fun of her in the hallway and humiliating her and … Her whole existence in front of everybody when class change was happening? What is going to happen to them? Oh, nothing?”
It’s unclear who called the police and Willum doesn’t specify in the video. Commenters on the TikTok video allege assistant principal Beth Haun called the police, though that has not been confirmed. Willum did “pin” a comment that includes work contact information for Haun, however, which puts the comment at the top of the thread.
“People don’t feel safe at school,” Willum continued. “They literally threaten her life! Do you know the life expectancy of a Black trans woman? She’s a Black trans woman and y’all are treating this as something to stick under the rug.”
“This is what it feels like to be Black and be part of the LGBTQ+ community in Knoxville, Tennessee at a Knox County school,” Willum added. “This raggedy ass school. I can’t f–king stand this school.”
We don’t have the full details on this situation, but we do know that Black students are more likely to be arrested at school and that they’re more likely to attend schools with a police presence. Black students are also more likely to be suspended than their white peers. Black students are more likely to be disciplined harshly than white students for the same behavior.
Getting police out of schools is a progressive mission in general, and especially when we consider that police presence could be legitimately dangerous—if not simply emotionally destabilizing and even traumatizing—for students of color. We don’t have all of the information about the situation at this Knoxville high school, but it’s easy for viewers to see the true pain, anxiety, and trepidation in the student’s face and voice, especially in reference to the police outside the classroom door. No one deserves to experience that fear, and especially not someone who was seemingly sticking up for a vulnerable, marginalized peer.
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