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Nickolas Oatley / Staff photos by Nickolas Oatley  

From left, Brittany Kovar, Kiera Egan, Amanda Preczenski and Scott Dietrich, with the local chapter of Team RWB, walk through the quad near Waters Hall at K-State on Wednesday holding American flags. The veterans support organization’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activity.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley 

Above: A student walks past some of the 2,977 American flags lined in the quad near Waters Hall on Wednesday to honor each life lost Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Transgender NCAA athlete tells K-State students understanding isn't required for love

As a transgender man, Schuyler Bailar said he’s used to questions that some people might find weird, strange and even offensive.

He said he’s grown used to it, but as the first openly transgender athlete to compete on an NCAA Division I men’s team, he’s taken those questions as an opportunity to educate. He’s embarking on a 25-city question-and-answer tour, and K-State was the first stop Tuesday evening.

Bailar said he was assigned a female gender at birth, but he always struggled with that identity. Presenting as a tomboyish girl in elementary school, he was bullied, and he never felt accepted by either his female or male classmates.

“I spent most of my childhood presenting in a way that was most comfortable to me, and that ended up being in this masculine, boyish way,” Bailar said. “But I was bullied a lot, and I was kicked out of most of the girls’ bathrooms that I went into. I just had to pee. I was a little kid — I didn’t know any better. I was going to the girls’ bathroom because I was told I had to.”

In middle school, he started to feel disconnected from others around him, and when he would come home from school crying, his parents tried to help but weren’t sure how.

“My dad would tell me, ‘When you grow up, you’re going to be this beautiful woman, and all the guys are going to want to date you, and all of the girls will want to be like you,’” Bailar recalled.

So Bailar tried to grow into this idea of a “beautiful woman.” He ditched a Justin Bieber-esque haircut, started wearing makeup, heels and other womanly items. As a teenage girl, he knew that he was attracted to women, so he had a girlfriend.

Bailar was also a model student. With a 4.0 GPA and a spot on the varsity girls’ swim team, he set national swim records and started attracting the attention of Ivy League swim recruiters. He committed to Harvard and was set to join its team upon graduation.

But he was miserable.

“I was so sad,” Bailar said. “I felt so disconnected from the people around me, and I couldn’t figure out why. And instead of stopping to figure that out, I just kind of said, ‘I’m going to keep swimming, and it’ll be fine.’”

A back injury his junior year of high school kept him from swimming, and while he fully recovered over just a few months, he said that made him spiral further into his mental health problems.

His senior year, a therapist recommended he take a gap year before going to Harvard. With his future coach’s blessing, he moved into a residential treatment facility for mental health when he graduated.

He stayed there 131 days, and it was during his time at the facility that he realized he was transgender.

“That was the first time that required me to stop and think about myself,” Bailar said. “I had to figure out where this misery was coming from.”

Bailar said that revelation was initially a great relief, but that relief turned to worry. What would happen to his spot on the Harvard women’s swim team?

Bailar’s coach was in constant contact, and when Bailar told her he was dealing with several issues, including gender, she stopped him, and asked him what he meant by gender.

“I realized I had spent all this time trying to be honest with myself,” Bailar said, “and I owed it to myself to be honest with her. So I told her that I thought I was transgender, and I had no idea what that implied for that sport. All I knew is that I wanted to swim.

“She paused, too, and said, ‘You know, Schuyler, I recruited you, and the team loves you, and I love you. If you want to swim, you have a spot on this team, and we’ll figure it out,’” Bailar continued.

Once Bailar arrived on campus, though, he realized that identifying as a man but competing with the women was “a step backward.” His coach helped him secure a spot on the men’s team, who welcomed him just as warmly as the women, he said.

After “top surgery” (removal of both breasts), Bailar was about to compete in his first meet in college, and he was freaking out. It was his first meet as a male, and his first meet after a two-year break from swimming. Everything was different, and he started having doubts.

But then he realized that everything was actually the same. It was the same 100-yard race length, the same six breast strokes to take him across the pool, and the same natatorium and chlorine feeling.

Bailar’s pre-meet ritual was to hook his thumb underneath the strap of his women’s swim suit, but at this meet, he was topless. He said he instinctually felt around for the strap but didn’t find it.

“In that moment, I realized that everything is the same but also different,” Bailar said. “I realized I was competing as just myself. There wasn’t all this baggage of who I was supposed to be or who I had to be. I was just me.”

He graduated from Harvard this spring after a swim career that included three Ivy League team championships and placement in the the top 15% of NCAA swims in the 100-yard breaststroke. Bailar said he’s touring the country to help people accept themselves for who they are and answering questions to help others accept transgender people.

Bailar said it’s often confusing for others to understand transgender people. While his parents accept him and love him, it’s hard for them to understand what he goes through as a transgender person, but he said that’s completely fine.

“I think it’s ridiculous to suppose that everyone is going to understand everybody; it can’t happen,” Bailar said. “But you can love and respect people. I don’t understand multivariable calculus — never have, never will, don’t want to — but that doesn’t make it false or any less real. That doesn’t mean that people who study it are bad. I don’t understand it, and that’s fine.”

K-State’s Gender Collective sponsored Bailar’s lecture, and executive board member Sam Sharpe said he’s followed Bailar’s story since he was in high school. Sharpe said Bailar’s story could resonate at place like K-State.

“Sports are huge at K-State, and as we’re trying to become a more diverse and inclusive institution, we can think about how that applies to sports in terms of who is making up our teams and their acceptance in the broader community,” Sharpe said.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley 

Kiera Egan, from Long Island, New York, holds up a photo of herself and her sibling in front of the Twin Towers in 2000. This photo was their Christmas card that year and had the phrase “Peace on Earth” over it. Egan’s cousin escaped from one of the fallen towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and she had friends whose family members lost their lives that day.

Defendant says in video shooting of boyfriend was 'accident'

A woman charged with the second-degree murder of her boyfriend said in a police interview video that the shooting was accidental.

Prosecutors played the video Wednesday at the Riley County Courthouse during a jury trial for 22-year-old Gregoria Elizabeth Baez. Baez initially was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors began to lay out its case Wednesday that she was so reckless with the gun that she required a more severe charge.

The defense has not begun making its case as of press time Wednesday.

Baez is accused of shooting and killing 21-year-old Felix Florez of Manhattan on Sept. 22, 2018, at 1420 Vista Lane. Florez was a Geary County correctional officer who was off duty.

In the video, Baez told Riley County Police Detective Sam Shubert that she and Florez had been dating for about three years. She said the night of Sept. 22, they were in the bedroom of their shared home, and Florez said he was going to play a video game. Baez said she teased him about it, and he unholstered his gun and pointed it at her, saying, “What did you say?” in a joking manner.

Baez said they had joked like this before, and she thought to grab her gun from the nightstand. Baez said she wasn’t sure what happened — whether she might have jerked and disengaged the safety, for example — but the gun fired and wounded Florez in the face.

Baez told Shubert she wasn’t “too familiar with guns” and didn’t have a lot of experience shooting that particular handgun.

“I had no intentions to shoot him; we were joking,” she said.

Baez said she then called 911.

Shubert noted that Baez was “extremely upset” immediately after the incident.

Emergency responders took Florez to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan and then flew him to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, where he later died.

Alan Riniker, a crime scene investigator with RCPD, testified Wednesday that the gun used in the incident had a spring-loaded or “grip” safety, which can be disengaged by pressing down on a lever on the handle.

Riniker said he also collected another gun, clothing from both Baez and Florez, a bullet casing found in the bedroom, a bullet collected from Florez during the autopsy, and general DNA and gunshot residue swabs from Baez as evidence.

Gregorio Florez, Felix’s father, a former member of the military, testified that he had been the primary person to teach Felix about guns and gun safety, and that he had further training while he worked for the Texas Department of Corrections.

Florez said Felix was experienced with guns and that he had never seen his son point a gun at another person. He said he purchased a gun for his son in July 2018, and Felix told him he would give it to Baez.

Florez said he sometimes saw Felix jokingly unholster his gun outside of a work environment and ask people, “What did you say?” and then re-holster it.

Florez also said that after Felix’s death, he looked at images on Baez’s Instagram account and saw photos and videos of Baez firing guns. He said he could see Felix’s car in the background in some of them and assumed the two went to firing ranges together.

Florez said he and his wife later spoke to Baez at their son’s funeral. He said she told them that the incident was an accident, and it was the first time she had ever done something like that.

The trial was expected to continue Thursday.

Elsey ends Anderson Village project

Anderson Village, the proposed residential and commercial development at 1445 Anderson Ave., is dead, Chris Elsey, project developer, told The Mercury on Wednesday.

The project included apartments, a hotel, retail spaces and a parking garage, among other amenities. Elsey also proposed entertainment ideas including an indoor water park, aquarium and an “adult Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

The development faced informal opposition from city officials and strong objections from some community members because of parking concerns and obstructing neighboring areas.

City adminstrators did not support the project, Elsey said.

“The leadership in the town and community, they have a certain vision for the community and the things they deem important, and I can certainly respect their decisions with that,” Elsey said.

Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said the complex brought forth parking and density issues.

“I think there was multiple approaches to the project; hard to get a real good feel for it,” Hilgers said.

Hilgers said he and Elsey had multiple conversations about the project.

Elsey said he is looking to take this idea elsewhere in another area in the country.