Students at Manhattan's Grace Church High School are required to attend chapel every other Wednesday, and on April 27, that meant attending a Pride event. The 6th annual Pride chapel featured a special guest: drag queen "Brita Filter," aka Jesse Havea. Students felt pressure to join in, dance, and celebrate, while Teacher Uyen Nguyen took the opportunity to announce their resignation over improper pronoun usage.
"There was tons of social pressure to dance along and pretend like it was normal for sure," a student who asked not to be named told The Post Millennial, "whether it be people tapping on shoulders and telling them to stand up or just a collective staring contest at whoever wasn't totally participating."
The event was led by the school, the reverend, and the students and faculty advisors for Spectrum, the school's LGBTQIA+ affinity group. The politically themed chapel, which was mandatory for all students in grades 9-12, apparently ran long.
"Immediately upon entering there was a person handing out stickers with Pride flags on them, unironically saying 'take one or you're homophobic.'"
According to multiple students who asked not to be identified by name, Havea as Brita entered from the back of the church, after remarks by the chaplain and a faculty member, as the disco hit "I Will Survive" echoed through the nave. Clad in electric orange go-go boots and a high-hemmed blue babydoll dress, he proceeded to strut and sashay down the aisle as if it were a runway, as some students began dancing in the pews. Others did not want to join in.
One student reported that as the performer approached the altar, he was joined by more dancing students, some of them "twerking." Bringing drag into classrooms and schools has been touted by its proponents as a way to "queer" education.
"I wondered, is this really happening in a chapel?" the student said. Another observed "tons of social pressure to dance along and pretend that this was normal for church."
"After a performance of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' Brita sat with Director of Vocal Music, Andrew Leonard, to answer questions about drag, representation and what pride month symbolizes," the school website reports. "Student members of Spectrum shared their own stories and experiences of identity and belonging at Grace, before the Grace Notes closed out the chapel with a performance of Rina Sayayama's 'Chosen Family.'"
In addition to answering questions about drag, Havea discussed the importance of his Tongan and Polynesian ethnicity. He also identifies as pansexual.
A student remarked "it’s notable that this person consistently called themselves fabulous and talented and beautiful. Not just once or twice, but over and over this person reassured themselves that way."
The program included time for students to get up and share their experiences of being LGBTQ, and it was during this time that Nguyen, who refers to themselves as "The Gay Agender Teacher Nguyen," and asks others to do the same, announced their resignation over pronoun usage.
Students in attendance told The Post Millennial that Nguyen told the chapel "how much they loved the gay kids at school, and how this has been the most inclusive and accepting place they’ve ever been, but it's the administration she cannot work with."
"The administration is not supportive of their identity," the student said. "They kept just saying that they were getting misgendered and people weren’t using their pronouns." Nguyen had previously complained that faculty pronoun misuse had been a "stressor" for them over the course of the school year.
Nguyen complained that there was no accountability for colleagues who misgendered them and didn't use her pronouns. In a March interview for the school's student newspaper, The Grace Gazette, Nguyen said that the school needed to have more training for faculty as regards non-binary people like them.
"It's mandatory that faculty do some amount of anti-racism training. My first week of meetings were all just anti-racism workshops," Nguyen told the Grace Gazette. "That’s great and necessary and needed, I just wish that there was also gender diversity and acceptance training. How to be respectful of different identities and whatnot. That’s not something that the school currently does. It’s really hard for me to be able to be supportive and create a safe space for people if I, myself, am struggling to feel that for me."
It was once Nguyen came on as a full faculty member that "they wanted to be 'authentic to [themselves]'" and began looking for more respect and acceptance of non-binary pronoun usage, as well as for validation of their non-binary identity from students.
"Teacher Nguyen feels that 'students have been really accepting' and that this student-teacher relationship has felt 'really great and validating' and gender euphoria-promoting," the school newspaper reports.
Havea is a seasoned performer at several drag bars and events in New York City. He was a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race, and is the national co-chair of "Drag out the Vote." On his website, Havea promotes his Brita persona for bookings, and he also sells t-shirts, hats, and other merchandise.
Havea's social media presence is rife with raunchy material. Marketing himself with the hashtag "#AnythingButPure," his Instagram and Youtube pages feature vulgar antics and allude to various kinks and high-risk sexual practices, including "water sports", "fisting", "balls deep", "turning out", "glory hole", and the phrase "1. in the pink, 2. in the stink".
Havea discussed elements of his act in an interview with "Out" Magazine in 2017. Havea was asked "As a queen, what does your act entail? I’m sure there is a sparkle of comedy involved."
"I do a lot of comedy," Havea replied. "It really works out that my name is Brita Filter, because my headline is: “Anything But Pure.” I love taking things that are very gentle, things that you’re really not supposed to touch, and fucking them up. That’s truly what I like to do. I do this number from Cinderella called 'My Own Little Corner, In My Own Little Chair,' and I mess it up by doing a mix out of it. But when Cinderella is in her own little corner, she is smoking a pipe and doing cocaine to get away from her step family. Everything I do is making fun of everything else and turning it up a little."
In his talk, Havea remarked with surprise that this was his first time speaking in a church.
Grace Church is a French Gothic Revival masterpiece in downtown Manhattan, built in the 1840's and the first major commission of James Renwick, Jr., the architect who would later design St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Paul Rossi was a teacher of mathematics at Grace Church School from 2012 to 2021, when he became a whistleblower about the impact critical race theory was having on education and students. He is a Senior Education Analyst at legalinsurrection.com, and can be reached on Twitter @pauldrossi.
The Grace Church School was reached for comment, as was Teacher Nguyen.
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