Honoring Pride and Perseverance with Guest Schuyler Bailar

The academic year ends in June with many celebratory events of students’ academic and extracurricular achievements. This month is a special moment in time where students gather together to take stock of their culminated efforts, memories made, and exciting next steps. Across the five boroughs, as campuses erect stages for graduations, and embrace warmer weather, New York City is also preparing rainbow banners, hosting special drag balls and parades—all colorful evidence of the city’s changes since Stonewall in 1969. June marks Pride month, which celebrates the historical accomplishments toward progress, the beauty, and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.

Poly Pride March

At the Lower School, Head of Lower School Francis Yasharian P’36 organized another year of Poly’s participation in the Brooklyn Pride Parade among other classroom and schoolwide learning. Poly families, faculty, staff, and friends marched together in celebration of love, togetherness, and diversity of expression. In coordinated efforts, the Middle School and Upper School offered assemblies led and organized by affinity and alliance groups and their faculty advisors. 

Poly Pride Brooklyn March

The Middle School assembly’s theme was “reflect, empower, unite,” beginning with a student-led musical performance of “Riptide” by Vance Joy. The audience also learned from student testimonials on the meanings of LGBTQ+ flags and had student-facilitated discussions on gender expression. They also discussed tips on how to make Poly a better, safer place for all, especially our LGBTQ+ students and community members. In the presentation, students also shared that according to The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2024 is on track to become the second year in a row with the highest number of anti-trans bills and hate crimes on record. According to, 617 anti-trans bills that “seek to block trans people from receiving basic healthcare, education, legal recognition, and the right to publicly exist” have been introduced across 43 states in the country. 

MS Pride Assembly

During Upper School’s Pride Assembly on June 10, our GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and QBIPOC (Queer Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) affinity and alliance student groups brought attention to one of these 617 bills, the ban of transgender youth participation in sports. They created an environment where Poly students could learn from the stories of personal experience, and ask questions from hopefully a more humanized place where harmful stigmas can begin to shatter. In the Memorial Chapel, students gathered for keynote speaker Schuyler Bailar, an internationally-recognized inspirational speaker and bestselling author of “He/She/They: How We Talk About Gender and Why It Matters” who is dedicated in his work to trans inclusion, body acceptance, and mental health. 

During the assembly, Bailar’s keynote speech was light with humor, creating intentional moments of connection with students and faculty. He spoke of his childhood filled with sports, outdoor play, and memories of a close-knit family. He shared pictures from throughout his youth. Photos of him as a child with a glitter mohawk, a baby smiling with dark hair and a bright smile, a grand Washington D.C. high school building, and inviting, blue swimming pools, illustrated his life narrative. 

Schuyler Bailar presentation

Bailar told a complex story about how freedom to authentically express one’s gender identity and explore a love for sports in the safety of a supportive family cemented a childhood of strong foundation, but in high school faced major declines in mental health. Still, his achievements in swimming led to offers from Ivy League institutions like Harvard. Struggles with body image and self-esteem were intensified by pressures he received from classmates and others to conform to their expectations of how he should look and present in his gender.

Schuyler Bailar

The gender binary, defined by Britannica, is a “system that classifies sex and gender into a pair of opposites, man or woman, often imposed by culture, religion, or other societal pressures.” It is a shared experience across people of all genders that the gender binary can be restrictive in its expectations for how people are expected to dress, act, and look based on their sex. Like many Poly students, Bailar found his passion very young and committed countless hours to training to become exceptional in his craft. Bailar’s swimming career has been decorated with notable accomplishments from as early as age seven.

As a role model, Bailar imparted a valuable lesson to our students: you do not have to neglect your mental health, present yourself in an inauthentic manner for approval of the larger group, or prioritize your goals over your needs. After a gap year of therapy, which put at risk an offer to swim on the women’s swim team at one of the most elite educational institutions in the country, Bailar made the choice to stay true to his healing. In an unprecedented decision, Bailar transitioned, returning to his commitment to swim for Harvard, and became the first openly transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team. 

Often, it is a difficult decision to ask for help. But in doing so, it may be considered an investment in one’s personal growth that ultimately allows one to become a more well-rounded individual more equipped to enact positive change. Poly is grateful to Bailar for visiting us and sharing his journey. Stories like his resonate because they offer personal perspectives and nurture a cycle of support and inclusion that advances our community forward.