Openly trans high schooler says bullies secretly recorded him in the bathroom

Openly trans high schooler says bullies secretly recorded him in the bathroom

High school can be a treacherous experience for many people, especially if you were in any way different from your peers. Teenagers (like, frankly, adults) can be cruel, exclusive, and often live with many complex emotions, traumas, and obstacles they don’t know how to express or seek help about. With all of that in mind, it’s no surprise that reports about school bullying and harassment are consistently concerning, especially when it comes to a notably vulnerable population: trans youth. 

Clay Sentell, a 16-year-old high schooler in North Carolina, says he was secretly recorded by bullies while using school bathrooms. Sentell spoke to The Shelby Star about his experience in the boys’ bathroom, where he says one video shared to Snapchat featured him washing his hands, while another was taken while he was in a bathroom stall at Burns High School. Now, Sentell and his mom want answers and accountability from the school. 

The high school junior told the outlet he felt like his privacy was “invaded” and felt “terrified” after a friend showed him one of the videos already shared on social media. 

“The way I dress doesn’t equal my gender identity,” Sentell explained. “I know a lot of people see those as hand in hand. [My clothes] are just how I express myself; it is how I want to be. The fact I am being recorded in the bathroom for it is insane.” Sentell is transgender and uses both she/her/hers and he/him/his pronouns. 

In speaking to Channel 9 News, Sentell said he asked the school to use the girls’ bathroom, but ultimately agreed to use a private bathroom near the school’s office. However, that bathroom was far away from his classes, so Sentell said he used the men’s room close by. That’s where peers recorded him. 

“It’s just who I am,” Sentell said about his identity and presentation. “It’s how I express myself.”

According to Sentell’s mother, Annie Sentell, students were playing a virtual “tag” by sharing videos of her son. “It’s almost like I got one of him, so now tag you are it, kind of thing, I think,” she told the outlet. 

Since the discovery of these videos, the Sentell family has protested outside of the school. Sentell, his mother, and his sister, Abby, stood in front of the school on Friday, holding signs calling for changes from the school administration. According to Sentell’s mother, the impetus for the protest was the administration telling her she’d have to wait almost a week to meet with them, which she felt was too long given the circumstances.

From there, however, Sentell’s mother said the school principal called her and described the family’s signs as “distracting,” and Sentell’s mother has since decided to keep Clay at home. According to Channel 9, Sentell’s mother is looking into options for legal action against the school and alternatives for her child’s education.

And Clay? He said he’s still going to “love” the people that bullied him and that he’s going to pray for them to be more “open” and “accepting.” 

Literal years’ worth of research shows that LGBTQ+ youth—and especially trans youth—report disproportionately high rates of bullying, harassment, and even physical and sexual violence from peers. Trans youth are especially likely to become homeless and leave school without a diploma. Being essentially forced out of school can create a domino effect in a world that’s already hostile to trans folks—harder to get a job, for example, or to qualify for an apartment or house, or to have the financial resources to access affirming medical care.

All of this is part of why it’s so bizarre and damaging that Republicans are hyper-focused on sports, for example, when trans youth are so deeply marginalized and vulnerable. It’s cruel, it’s traumatic, and on the least emotional level, it’s an enormous waste of time and resources. Then again, that description sums up the Republican party pretty damn well. 

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