More than 100 students walked out of class at a high school in a small Missouri town on Monday to protest a transgender classmate being allowed to use the girls’ locker room and bathrooms. But the teen tells PEOPLE that the issue isn’t one of uncomfortability, but of hate.
“The extremes [the students] are taking it to, the amount of hatred and disrespect they’re spewing out, that kind of gives it away that this is more about hate than anything else,” Lila Perry, a 17-year-old transgender student at Hillsboro High School tells PEOPLE.
Perry hid out in a guidance counselor’s office while her classmates and their parents picketed outside the school, the New York Times reports. Some even held signs like “Girl’s Right’s Matter.”
“I was concerned about my own safety,” she told the Times
Perry began identifying as a girl earlier this year and school officials gave her permission to use girls’ facilities, she told the Times. She previously used a unisex faculty bathroom, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
“I wasn’t hurting anyone,” Perry told the Dispatch. “I didn’t want to be in something gender neutral. I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”
Perry’s peers were outraged by the school district’s decision to let her into the girls’ bathroom. For two hours on Monday, more than 100 students left class in protest. A school official told the Times that he does not believe any of the students were penalized.
Perry says she understands the concern of the students and their parents to some extent, but their issues with her could have been easily resolved.
“What I really think is that, if it was really about [being uncomfortable], then any of them could have talked to me.
” … I think it has to do with people being afraid of what they don’t understand or know much about. I think a lot of it has to do with how [the students] were raised. A lot of the people at my school were raised to be very bigoted.”
Perry dropped out of the gym class that prompted her use of the girls locker room, the Times reports.
The protest followed a school board meeting on Thursday in which a slew of parents came out to oppose Perry’s use of girls’ facilities. One parent told the Dispatch that it isn’t right to give Perry special treatment “while the girls just have to suck it up.”
District superintendent Aaron D. Cornman issued a statement to reporters, noting that the school respects the rights of all students and commends them for standing on their beliefs, according to the Dispatch.
While many protested in opposition of the teen, who had previously been living as a gay male, a small group gathered to show support. A friend of Perry’s saluted her bravery, telling the Dispatch that Perry is “choosing her life to better herself, to better accept herself.”
Now, Perry says she wishes to open a dialogue so students like her will have a better experience in high school.
“It feels really awful that people are going to these extremes against me, not just in school but all over the Internet,” Perry said. “But I’ve also received so much support. It feels really surreal to be in the middle of all of this.”