TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Students at Sage College participated in a “topless protest” on Wednesday to bring attention to a social issue.
Troy police said the protest stems from an alleged incident on Sunday. Police said a school security guard approached a sunbathing student and asked if the student was a boy or a girl.
“The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Are you a guy or a girl?’” student Cedar Brock said.
Brock was reading outside topless when the officer said to put a shirt on. As an androgynous, Brock refused.
“I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not breaking any laws,” Brock said. “I’m not being disorderly. I’m being peaceful. I’m just reading.”
“I had the New York State law on my side, I felt,” Brock continued. “The People v. Santorelli case in 1992 that allowed people who do not identify as male to walk around topless where men are allowed to do that.”
So on Wednesday, back with a vengeance, Brock was joined by peaceful and topless protestors using the hashtag #IStandWithCedar. They wanted to send a message that made some unsuspecting people in downtown Troy a little uncomfortable and a lot curious.
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“Even though I don’t feel comfortable taking off my own bras and shorts, I think really something to watch how society is changing,” student Kylee Muller said.
But that’s what protestors were hoping for: a shock value to bring attention to bigger social issues.
“To destroy the social stigmas on the bodies of anyone who’s not a cisgender male,” organized protestor Kelly Shanahan said.
And Brock is hoping that what started as a clash of ideas will end with acceptance.
“It took me a while to understand it and understand myself,” Brock said. “If people are willing to take a moment, take a breath and listen, all we need is them to listen.”
The school dean, Deborah Lawrence, supports the protest.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to be better educated about gender non-conforming individuals, and I mean all of us,” she said. “Not just public safety. Faculty, staff, other students. Everybody.”
Lawrence said an investigation is underway but no disciplinary action has been handed down.
The college president also posted the following letter on Facebook noting they are available to talk with students about social issues:
Dear Sage Community,I am writing to make you aware of a peaceful demonstration that is being planned by students for this afternoon in Sage Park. Students will be gathering beginning at 12:30 p.m. in support of a classmate they feel was mistreated following an incident in Sage Park on Sunday.We have reason to believe that some students may be demonstrating topless. We are an educational institution, and this is a teachable moment for all of us at Sage, and for us at Sage to help educate the broader community.Our campuses are a community where we support people with a range of gender identities and people who are in the process of discovering their identities. We did receive many student accounts of the incident on Sunday and we are conducting an investigation.College staff, including Deans Mike Baumgardner, Deb Lawrence and Student Life Vice President Trish Cellemme have been available to talk with students about these issues. Students have expressed appreciation over being heard and supported by the administration.Because of our rapidly changing culture we need to ensure respectful treatment of transgender, androgynous and people dealing with the discovery that their birth gender is not what feels right to them. We plan to use what we learn from this experience to continue educating our campus communities about cultural sensitivity, diversity, and inclusion for members of our Sage community.Cordially,Susan C. Scrimshaw