Everyone goes to the bathroom, it’s a fact of life. For most people, while it’s not pleasant, a trip to the restroom is something they don’t have to worry about. But the incident on March 23, 2016 shows that for some students at Timber Creek, a trip to the bathroom can very easily spark national controversy.
Elliot Cope is a sophomore. They’re non-binary and transgender, meaning they don’t identify as either male or female. Generally, if they need to pick one or the other, they prefer to use men’s restrooms as that is closer to what they identify as.
On March 23, Cope was trying to wash clay off their hands in the nearest bathroom. They had no idea that someone had taken a picture of them until it appeared on Twitter later that afternoon; it was retweeted and captioned from not just TCHS students, but students from across the nation as well.
The students responsible for the tweet told Talon reporters they were not allowed to comment on this story. However, sources said these students were given consequences for taking a photo in the restroom. Administration was unable to comment on the issue because of confidentiality.
“The day the original picture was posted I received a variety of responses from people, many were very positive and supportive,” said Cope in an interview with the Talon conducted over text. “But some were pretty aggressive and I got a lot of people saying I deserved it because I shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.”
After the bathroom incident went viral, Cope was brought into the office to discuss what had happened.
Following the posts going viral, Timber Creek received a lot of backlash. Students were tweeting at the Talon with questions and comments about the administrator’s response to the situation.
“The school really took a black eye. I would say the people out there giving us a black eye were uninformed and they had no idea what was going on and they were saying that we were a transphobic school,” said Mr. Johnson, an AP with Timber Creek that accepted an interview with the Talon. “And we definitely are not, I mean we aren’t, I think I made it very clear to every student when we were going through that process.”
On March 24, Timber Creek administrators offered a statement:
Timber Creek High School administrators tell the Talon that they are in the process of investigating this issue through the Keller ISD Anti-Bullying policy. This policy takes all student accusations seriously and designed to be very thorough. Timber Creek Administrators are communicating with all of the parties that may be involved, but this process takes time.
Administrators would like to encourage students to be respectful on social media.
“We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. I urge students to use social media responsibly, and not as a tool to demean their peers or spread unconfirmed rumors,” Timber Creek Principal Todd Tunnell said in a statement to the Talon. “Keller ISD’s Student Code of Conduct addresses the misuse of technology resources and the internet, and any students violating this policy will be disciplined according to the Code.”
The situation escalated from there. On March 26, the following Saturday morning, administrators came to find the school had been vandalized overnight. The field house and parking lot had been spraypainted with derogatory words, sentences and images.
“That was really screwed up,” said Cope. “Also it was a homophobic slur, and I find it quite ridiculous that in 2016 people are still personally offended by other people’s life choices and who they are.”
“I hate it that, that happens, defacing property, it just makes it ugly,” said Johnson. “I can’t imagine having the gall to go and spraypaint the school.”
When school got back from a three-day weekend on Monday, March 28, two groups of students were outside. One was a group of students in support of Cope and all transgender students; the other was a group of students holding a prayer circle under the flagpole.
The group of students that were praying around the flagpole were gathered there to ask God for guidance for our school and administrators to make the right decisions. Ashton Yeatts, a TC senior, texted a friend and asked her what she thought about a “Meet at the Flag” prayer for March 28.
“Monday morning, I woke up early and my dad, sister, and I went to the flagpole at 7:30 a.m. and just began praying. We prayed for all kinds of things but mainly wisdom for the leaders in our school,” Yeatts commented. “A lot of people who were protesting thought that we were protesting against them, but that was not the case at all. We were there to invite God back into our schools and pray blessing over each and every student, teacher, and faculty member.”
“We want to feel like we are being protected at school and like we are safe,” said Nevaeh Sotello, one of the freshmen who helped organize the student protest on behalf of Cope. “We want to see a change in the protection of these communities.”
The administration was aware of both groups.
“Well, we’ve had protests on this campus before, we’re not new to that. Our general guidelines at Timber Creek have always been that before class starts and then after school ends you are free to do that peacefully. There will be adults around you, watching you, making sure that things are okay,” said Johnson. “And I addressed two groups, there were two groups out there, and I said, ‘All of you need to be back in school at 8:30 for class time, if you’re not you’re tardy, I just wanted you to know, and I want you to know we’re glad you’re going to keep this peaceful.’ And both sides were very kind and considerate. They just wanted their voices to be heard.”
For many students, this series of events came out of nowhere. For Cope, this has always been a worry.
“When I hit puberty and there started being a difference between ‘boys’ and ‘girls,’ I realized that I wasn’t like everyone else,” said Cope. “But it wasn’t until 2014 when I found out more about transgender people that I realized what my problem was.”
Back in August 2015, the administration started talking with Cope to try and figure out a solution to the bathroom problem.
“The administrators said I am allowed to use any faculty bathrooms on campus, however only one that I am aware of is actually ‘gender neutral’ and it is in the Fine Arts hall, and as you can tell that is a very inconvenient location,” said Cope.
Faculty restrooms are available throughout the school, but most have two identical restrooms that have signs signifying a specific gender.
“Also, even if the teachers and janitors didn’t yell at me for entering or exiting them, it’s not fun to come in and out of faculty restrooms, when you do that you’re put in the position of an outcast, you’re ostracized,” said Cope.
Most of the teachers and staff weren’t made aware of the fact that Cope had this pass until later.
“It wasn’t a school-wide email. At that point, I would find it difficult to do that. Because again, whoever it is, they might be embarrassed by someone knowing about their personal business, y’know, so no, I didn’t broadcast that out,” said Johnson. “But we definitely, y’know on an individual basis, if somebody was giving them a hard time about it, it was never brought to my attention that that had occurred.”
On April 1, Timber Creek Principal Todd Tunnel sent out an email to faculty to let them know of the restroom accommodations:
“Teachers and staff, I want you to be aware that some special provisions/accommodations have been made for a small number of students to use gender neutral restrooms. If you see a student going into the faculty restrooms, please know that they have specific accommodations, even if they don’t have a pass with them.”
This is where most other media outlets end their story, however, for Cope, it was far from over.
On Wednesday, April 6, Cope used the men’s restroom again.
“I had to throw up, so I headed to the nearest bathroom, so I wouldn’t puke in the hallway,” Cope explained. “So it wasn’t even like a political thing, it was just because of sanitary reasons.”
When they were caught, they were suspended from Timber Creek. Cope says this seemed to come out of nowhere.
“No action was taken before my suspension today, other than threats of consequence and confrontation and alerting my mother,” said Cope. The day of the suspension, Cope tweeted, “I just got suspended after earlier today having a panic attack and going in the nearest restroom to throw up. Thanks Tunnell.”
The administration wasn’t able to comment for the sake of student confidentiality.
This story doesn’t end here. For transgender students across the nation, bathroom rights are a huge problem. Here at Timber Creek, there are still unanswered questions. Our reporters searched for these answers, but some of them aren’t available due to student confidentiality or the controversy in general.
This article was researched and written by multiple Talon reporters (Cameryn Beason, Kristina Dargan, Emily Gogle, and Ashley Nagel) with varied personal beliefs to collect accurate and unbiased information. If you see any errors, contact the editor at email@example.com.