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Cross-dressing theme day at high school raises concerns

Dress like the opposite sex. That was the theme Wednesday at Bremerton High School for part of the school’s spirit week program.

For some students at the school the biggest concern would be finding the funniest or most creative outfit, but for others the day might bring up a laundry list of potential issues.

For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students high school can be a trying time. Stereotypes can be hard to overcome, and on a day where those stereotypes are amplified the pressure can be even greater.

“It sounds like a nightmare,” said Kathy Reim. “What kind of boundaries are they going to establish?”

Reim is the Pacific Northwest Regional Director for PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She said the theme concerns her, that it brings undue attention to gender stereotypes in an unproductive way.

“(PFLAG) deals with people who are being harassed around stereotypes,” Reim said. “Anything that makes that part of typical school behavior, from our perspective wouldn’t serve our families well or young people well.”

Patty Glaser, Bremerton School District’s community relations director, said the district hasn’t heard any concerns regarding any of its spirit week programs or themes.

“The students have not had an issue with it,” Glaser said. “In my conversations with the high school there have not been concerns raised internally.”

According to Glaser students must still adhere to the school’s clothing policies during spirit week, and faculty and staff will be on the look-out for potential offenders. The staff members involved in the decision-making process at the high school are cautious and sensitive to potential issues, she said.

According to the district all four themes of spirit week (nerd day, dress like the opposite sex day, throwback Thursday and class color day) are chosen by the Associated Student Body — the student government. The themes are approved by Sandra Van Valkenburg, the ASB’s faculty adviser, before they’re made official.

Calls and emails made to Van Valkenburg were not returned.

Ian Sherman, the faculty advisor for Gay Straight Alliance at Bremerton’s Olympic College, said he isn’t familiar with the specifics of the high school’s event but the theme itself is worrisome.

“I think the big thing here is intent versus impact,” Sherman said. “I have no question their intent was perfectly benign. I think the biggest question is the impact it’s going to have on the students.”

Sherman said when he was in high school there was a Sadie Hawkins football game, where the cheerleaders dressed as football players and the players dressed as cheerleaders. It was always kind of mocking and silly and feminized, Sherman said.

“At the time it just seemed kind of fun and funny,” he admitted. But then he raised a question: “Why is male femininity so funny?”

So many adolescent men cross-dressing for one event caused Reim to think of drag queens — men who dress as exaggerated caricatures of women. Reim said she feels drag queens often play meaningful parts in LGBT culture.

“Drag queens are playing a good role,” Reim said. “But the adolescent boys, I do think they will be making fun of and mocking the female body and gender identity.”

Sherman expressed a similar sentiment.

“There’s a long history of drag in the LGBT community,” he said. “But there’s also a long history of mocking.”

As for Glaser and the school district, they are confident the students can handle such an event.

“High school students are a bit less likely to do that than middle school students,” Glaser said. “High school students are more likely to self-regulate that behavior.”

 

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