Last spring, Heath School principal Asa Sevelius publicly came out as transgender, becoming the first openly transgender school leader in Brookline, and one of only a couple in the United States.
On Jun. 7, Sevelius came out through an email to the parents of students enrolled at Heath, but this public transition is something he has been pondering for years.
“Over the last few years I’ve felt like I’m ready to do this, and I’m not really interested in doing it for anybody else other than myself, so it became time,” Sevelius said.
While sex is defined by the anatomy people are assigned at birth, gender can be more complicated and is often considered to be more of a spectrum, according to Sevelius.
“Gender is an ever emerging construct. People, including myself, have a narrative that is oftentimes very complicated,” Sevelius explained.
Coming out to the community was important to Sevelius, but he was also very conscious of his responsibilities as a principal and integral part of the school community.
“I really think everyone deserves to live their most authentic life, and I’m no different just because I have a certain role in the community,” Sevelius said. “I also recognize that role, and that I’m very visible as a school leader.”
To take this important step within the school community, Sevelius understood the importance of working closely with Superintendent Andrew Bott.
Bott spoke to Sevelius’ skill as a school leader and explained the thought process that influenced his support of Sevelius during this time.
“Fundamentally, this is about supporting an outstanding school leader, and it’s about how we support anyone and everyone in our school community,” explained Bott.
According to Sevelius, Bott was incredibly supportive of Sevelius’s timeline of when he wanted to come out, as well as providing plenty of resources, time and personnel.
“Both what’s right to do and the law in Massachusetts is that a decision to make an announcement like this is dictated by the individual,” Bott said. “For me, as the superintendent, I very much needed to follow his lead.”
Sevelius said the coming out was inevitable, but he recognizes that the process was much more smooth in a community like Brookline. He believes it would have been a very different experience in another town.
“People would tell me, ‘you know it’s going to be okay. You know in Brookline, it’s going to be okay,’” Sevelius said. “In my mind I’d say, ‘I think so. I believe in the community, I really trust the community, and I think it’s the right place for me right now,’ but in my heart, until I was on the other side of that, I had no idea, so I was very relieved when it went very well.”
Bott also had incredible faith in the Brookline community and was impressed by their reaction to the news.
“I believed deeply in Brookline. Brookline is a community that embraces everyone for who they are. Brookline is a community that respects everyone’s individual dignity as a human,” Bott said.
According to Sevelius, although he did receive four anonymous messages of hate from people elsewhere in the country who he has never heard from again, there was no personal or overt hate directed towards him from members of the Brookline community.
“I think there were some people who really struggled to understand and to make meaning. I’ve been able to work with most of them pretty closely, and it’s been a really great experience,” Sevelius said.
According to Sevelius, not only has the community as a whole been incredibly accepting and supportive, but the students and faculty of Heath have been equally, if not more, so.
“The kids have been great at Heath School,” Sevelius said. “They’re so open and interested and understanding and curious. The staff there has been incredible. I just feel very connected to the community, which is great.”
One faculty member at Heath who works closely with Sevelius is Vice-Principal Michael Smith. Smith was delighted by the warmth and acceptance from the community. Smith also helped make sure conversations between teachers, parents and students occurred, to ensure an open and welcoming environment in the school.
Smith also spoke about how impressed he was by how Sevelius handled himself throughout the whole process.
“I admire the courage,” Smith said. “I admire the attitude of being yourself, and I applaud people who have the convictions to be true to who they are, regardless of what other people say.”
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