Brentley Johnson ‘18 knew that she was not a male.
For some time, Johnson kept her gender identity privy to only her family and a small number of trusted peers. However, in her senior year, Brentley gained the courage to inform the Bellarmine community about how she identifies herself as a female and has taken the initiative to act as a leader for the LGBTQ community.
Now, Brentley’s story serves as a catalyst for discussion. Brentley’s announcement prompted the administration to reexamine its student policies and approach an issue what other all-boys Jesuit high schools have not openly addressed. Also, her narrative has started a conversation on free expression.
For Brentley, the reveal was her way of becoming an advocate for free speech and the LGBTQ community on campus.
“I think one of the most important things as a person is finding out who you are and the communities that you can belong to and don’t want to belong to,” Brentley observed.
In other words, Brentley asserts that “Expression has a lot to do with bringing people together” and has related that her coming out has “been hard, but [she] thinks it’s important for the LGBTQ community here at Bellarmine to be seen more than they have ever been.
Let it be known, Brentley differentiates gender expression and gender identity. She feels that often time, they are viewed as similar and therefore must be treated as the same. “Expression and gender identity are not the same thing. There’s plenty of males outside the school that wears nail polish.”
Brentley’s announcement has incurred other kids to speak up – a few to even confess their own identity.
“Ever since I’ve come out, I’ve had six kids come out and tell me their gender identity,” Brentley said.
In some ways, the administration had initially shown reluctance to review student policies due to Brentley’s vocalization of her desire to express herself through socially-branded “feminine” clothing.
However, Brentley states that “A lot of teachers and faculty have been really supportive and the Bellarmine administration have reached out their hand, saying they’re willing to help me.”
Brentley even noted with surprise that the administration was willing to tackle such a challenging situation that no other Jesuit all-male institutions have openly addressed.
She elaborates, “I’m appreciative that they are even offering me a hand of support because they could have just asked me to leave.”
Now, Brentley’s supporters are wondering about the next steps in teaching Bellarmine more about LGBTQ and the importance of understanding gender identity. When asked by the Bell Online about where she found the courage to speak up, Brentley cited her brother.
“The realization that I wasn’t alone really helped. After finding out that I wasn’t alone and opening up to certain individuals, I realized that I was important. My little brother played a big role in that. Finally seeing the struggles that him and other students hide on a day-to-day basis allowed me to step up and speak out for all of them.”
At the end of the day, Brentley believes that finding a community that will support you is crucial in remaining confident about yourself and being happy.
As she enters her last month at Bellarmine, Brentley looks back with hope and offers this advice: “For anybody that is in a situation in which they feel ostracized, it’s hard to remember that there is a larger world out there that loves you. But it’s out there waiting for you.”
Story by Andrew Song ’18
*Brentley wants to ask for you to not reach out to her family and go straight to Brentley if you have any questions or concerns*