Don’t Say Gay: What School Feels Like for LGBTQ Florida Teens Now

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/dont-say-gay-florida-lgbtq-students

Please notice the section on homeless LGBTQ+ kids.    Yes students kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQ+.  Homeless kids for being gay or trans.   How do you think they survive, what do they have to do?   How the hell can they have an education when they are sleeping in orange groves, cars, and other people’s …   Why are these kids kicked out of their homes?  Bigotry and hate.   What does the push by the Republicans to demonize the LGBTQ+ and the don’t say gay bills do, they increase that bigotry.   They give hateful foster families and others the idea that these horrible LGBTQ+ have no worth and must be punished, that they don’t belong in a decent home.   You know it has to be horrible for a kid in their home when it is safer to stay in a school that they are bullied in after school hours.    How bad does home have to be.   Read the article, I wish these Republicans that are pushing this hate would understand that they are saying to these kids is hide / don’t dare be out and seen, you shouldn’t exist.   To the students with hateful parents that love these don’t say gay bills and the banning of book with LGBTQ+ content what it says is that it is OK to attack and target those kids, the ones you / your parents want to not be there.   Plus you have adults attacking kids as pedophiles because they are gay or forming gay support clubs.   How hateful and misinformed but that is what the right had been pushing, just being LGBTQ+ means you want to rape and little kids.    Horrible what absolute power in the hands of Republicans can cause.   And to the religious groups happy and proud of this effect on kids let me ask when Jesus said to let the kids come to him did he say but only the straight ones?     Hugs 
 
For queer students, school is a place that can hurt and heal.
Will Larkins 17 of Orlando poses for a portrait in his bedroom on Monday April 25 2022 in Orlando Fla.
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This story about LGBTQ+ students was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter

WINTER PARK, Fla. — Nearly a dozen Winter Park High School students settled into a classroom, forming a semi-circle around 17-year-old Will Larkins, who sat cross-legged on a desk.

It was the school’s first Queer Student Union meeting since March, when the group led a school-wide walkout to protest state legislation intended to limit classroom discussion on gender and sexual orientation. Critics have dubbed the measure the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Will, the head of the club, wanted to get a sense of how everyone was feeling.

“For the most part, it was actually really positive,” said Echo Izzo, a 19-year-old senior who was near the front of the group that day.

 

Though the protest didn’t stop Florida’s governor from signing the bill into law, to the students who led the event, it was still a success. Hundreds of their classmates in this Orlando suburb walked out of school for nearly an hour that day, chanting “We say gay.”

 

But not all the students showed up in support. On the fringes of the crowd, a teenager danced across a rainbow flag that had been tossed in the dirt.

That act wasn’t surprising, a Queer Student Union member said. What shocked them was just how many students actually joined them in a show of solidarity.

“I totally felt like 50 people would show up,” Will said.

A year ago, Winter Park High’s Queer Student Union didn’t exist. Now, its members have found themselves on the front lines of Florida’s ongoing attempt to restrict what can be talked about at school. The measure the students protested, formally known as the “Parental Rights in Education” law, bans instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade, as well as instruction that is not age- and developmentally appropriate at all grade levels.

Proponents say the law ensures parents are in charge of what their children learn about sensitive topics. Opponents say it will have a chilling effect. Though the measure specifically targets curriculum and discussion in K-3 classrooms, some educators and advocates worry it could also cut LGBTQ kids in higher grades off from support.

“At the high school level, I think it will create anxiety and maybe hesitancy by staff to have some of the open conversations that they may have,” said Dawn Young, who is the advisor for the Queer Student Union and a mentor for students. “I think it will affect the kids feeling that it means something is wrong with them.”

Will Larkins 17 of Orlando is seen at Winter Park High School on Monday April 25 2022 in Orlando Fla.

Will at Winter Park High School

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Will Larkins 17 of Orlando poses for a portrait in his bedroom on Monday April 25 2022 in Orlando Fla.

Will poses for a portrait in his bedroom

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For queer students, school is a place that can hurt and heal. It can be a safe space away from challenging home lives, but it can also be a source of pain. LGBTQ+ students reported being bullied on school grounds at nearly twice the rate of their straight peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Winter Park High, a school of more than 3,400 students, sits in a suburb of Orlando, a city the U.S. Census reports as having among the highest concentration of same-sex households in the country.

 

The school is also less than 10 miles from PULSE, a gay night club where 49 people were murdered in what was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Members of the Queer Student Union were in elementary and middle school when it happened.

Since the Queer Student Union was formed in November of 2021, its members have tried to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues. They have run voter registration drives, put up posters that say “Being gay is NOT a choice,” and they’ve been meeting with administrators to find ways to prevent bullying in school bathrooms.

Will closed the meeting with ideas for next year.

“What problems in the school can Queer Student Union solve, and what should we do as a club to keep engaging and be useful?” Will asked the group.

The students agreed they wanted to see more history lessons on the gay rights movement and presentations on why jokes about LGBTQ people are hurtful.

It’s unclear if the newly enacted law will affect those plans.

Winter Park High sits in a region that is less welcoming than other parts of the country to gay, lesbian and transgender youth, according to a 2021 survey by the Trevor Project, an advocacy and support organization.

Youth in the South reported higher rates of mental health issues and less access to affirming spaces compared to their peers in other regions of the country, the survey found.

 

“There’s definitely been an increase in anti-LGBTQ policy and rhetoric, and we’re seeing a lot of this happening in the states in the South,” said Myeshia Price, a senior research scientist with the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ youth have had to grapple with these hostile political climates, and to have their identities being debated and discussed right in front of them is undoubtedly having some negative impact on their mental health.”

A rainbow is seen inside Winter Park High School on Monday April 25 2022 in Orlando Fla.

A rainbow is seen inside Winter Park High School

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Winter Park High School is seen on Monday April 25 2022 in Orlando Fla.

Winter Park High School in Orlando

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For some students, school is the only safe place.

On most days at Winter Park High, Echo can be found waiting in the parking lot hours after the bell rings. That is where they wait to be picked up by a friend’s mom.

For more than a year, Echo has been homeless.

LGBTQ youth, particularly trans and nonbinary youth like Echo, are more likely than their peers to experience homelessness. More than one-third of trans and nonbinary youth in the Trevor Project’s survey reported homelessness and housing instability. Among the top reasons LGBTQ youth experience homelessness is family rejection because of their identity.

Echo started living on the streets of Winter Haven, Florida in 2021 because of a volatile home-life. Echo temporarily moved into a Christian homeless shelter, but when shelter employees found out they are trans, they were kicked out.

For several weeks, they slept at bus stops and in an orange grove near school.

“I was kind of desensitized,” Echo said. “I stopped letting myself hope by that point.”

 

Echo moved into an LGBTQ-friendly shelter about an hour away, in Winter Park, at the beginning of last school year. They met a friend at Winter Park High and moved in with his family a few months later.

Echo often hangs out in a courtyard at school for several hours, and this week in April was no different.

“I try to involve myself in as much as I can so I’m not just sitting here,” Echo said.

Even though Echo has found their niche at Winter Park High, school has always been complicated.

They have attended 15 different schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Most of those transitions happened in elementary school after Echo entered the foster care system in second grade.

By third grade, Echo knew they were queer, but they didn’t come out until sixth grade. In 11th grade, Echo realized they are nonbinary.

But their foster family was not supportive, and neither were some students at school.

“It was a lot more safe than home, but it was definitely not safe,” Echo said.

Echo Izzo 19 of Orlando practices piano and looks over their spoken word poetry on Sunday April 24 2022 in Orlando Fla.

Echo practices piano

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Echo Izzo a 19yearold senior at Winter Park High School is a member of the high schools fledgling Queer Student Union....
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Echo Izzo 19 of Orlando poses for a portrait on Sunday April 24 2022 in Orlando Fla.

Echo poses for a portrait 

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When Echo came out as nonbinary, they felt clearheaded for the first time. They still feel that way at Winter Park, even though it is a new place with problems of its own.

 

Sometimes, students make comments that alienate Echo. In April, a student in one of Echo’s classes criticized how much LGBTQ+ people have been speaking out about Florida’s new law.

“They said, in their words, ‘No one cares if you’re gay, just stop talking about it,’” Echo said. “We can’t just exist and not talk about it. We can’t just live a peaceful existence, because there’s always going to be people questioning us, making jokes, making threats.”

When Echo first heard that Florida’s new law was on its way to passing, they were distraught.

“It was the idea that something like this could pass and students like them would not be able to have a safe space that they could express themselves, because they couldn’t do that at home,” Young said.

Some students, like Will, are changing the status quo one class at a time.

In March, Will gave a presentation to his history class about the Stonewall riots — a famous 1969 protest in New York City that helped spark the gay rights movement. A video of the lesson went viral on Twitter.

Will is confident about his convictions. He speaks out against banning books at school board meetings, attends legislative hearings, and when strangers online asked why he wore a dress to school in that viral Stonewall video, his response was: “Because I wanted to.”

But being gay in high school has not been easy. When Will started speaking out about the new law, people began messaging him online telling him he is a pedophile and that he should kill himself. He’s talked candidly about struggling with mental health.

 

“When sixth grade rolled around, I started to realize I liked boys and not girls, and still having not been exposed to other queer people, the self-hatred only festered,” Will said at an Orange County School District board meeting in March.

His mental health worsened last fall, after students bullied him at a Halloween party, yelling at him and calling him slurs.

“I just became so depressed,” Will said.

It wasn’t until after the party he realized most of his LGBTQ+ friends were also dealing with similar issues. It was then that Young, the mentor, encouraged him and a friend to start the Queer Student Union.

Since then, school has become a safer space for Will, even though the students who bullied him are still there.

“I’ve gotten to the point now where the hateful people are such a small minority,” Will said.

He’s outgrown them. The space in his head that was once focused on bullying is now consumed by his plans for the future.

This spring, Will decided to run for student body representative.

 

In April, Will stood tall in his backyard. The sun would be going down soon, and he had one take to get this last scene right for his campaign video. His dad steadied the cellphone and told Will he was ready.

Will smiled for the camera.

“Even though it’s my first year at Winter Park High School, I’ve already made a splash,” Will said as he raised his arms over his head and dived into the pool.

The election took place a few weeks later. He didn’t win, but he didn’t have long to dwell on it. The same day he found out he lost, he was told he won a Webby Award — alongside two other Florida teens — for championing the “Say Gay” movement online. The awards honor “excellence on the Internet” and are presented in New York City.

“My goal was to make the school better for everyone, and I’m not going to stop trying to do that because I lost an election,” Will said.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Say Gay: What School Feels Like for LGBTQ Florida Teens Now

  1. Hi Scottie;
    People have a tendency to mimic and echo their chosen leaders and with those they associate. That isn’t world shaking news, but the consequences of people like Tucker and Hannity and Ingram are that people who are good people, who used to be good people, have their outlook distorted, their thought processes distorted, and can’t look at simple situations much less complex ones with the intellectual detachment they THINK they do.
    Great example: I was speaking with someone regarding the story about the Great Salt Lake drying up so severely that chemical compounds left in the now dry lake bed are becoming airborne and a toxic hazard to nearby residences, including Salt Lake City. I mentioned that was exactly what Greta Thunberg mentioned… and the immediate response I heard was “oh, that snooty bitch”. !!!!! What !!!! This little girl comes to speak and says we need to clean up our act, and she is a bitch?
    See, she got horrible press from the conservative pundits because 1. She was a woman. 2. She told them something they didn’t want to hear. 3. She was a foreigner and spoke with an accent. 4. Trump didn’t like her and she didn’t care. So, she’s a bitch. Salt Lake is drying up. People are likely going to have to flee that area. And, the pundits have moved on…. somehow it will be someone else’s fault, a Democrat, a homosexual, a transsexual, video games…. who knows. But, it won’t be the republican idea that destroying the environment in the pursuit of a dollar could at all be a contributory reason.
    Sorry, tangent.
    So, this so called “conservative” punditry that expounds incessant upon one “evil” or another leading their so very wise sheep about by the cognitively crystalized nose as they are too incapable or uncaring of even the simplest of research to garner a thought that could possibly conflict with their hate or ignorance or zealotry, and lies, smears, half-truths and what-have-you gets passed down to the unencumbered mind at the mill of misinformation and misanthropy.

    Sorry, got on a roll.
    hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Randy. Greta Thunberg is a girl who had the audacity to quote that science stuff to men. How dare she! She needs to learn to make sandwiches and serve beer, taking with grace the occasional slap on the ass and comments about her tits. Fox and to a lesser extent the popular right-wing media have made vilifying the person the goal, the way to discrediting the ideas / information they cannot attack. Shoot the messenger type thing. I have given up posting things that Tucker says because he has gotten so over the top ridiculous it is like he is doing a parody of himself. But you are correct that people that only watch or consume right wing media stop using reason and run on emotion. How it feels to them is more important than what the information is. I don’t know what to do to fix this situation as you cannot reason with people who won’t use reason. They just close down and ignore what you are saying thinking they know better than you. Hugs

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Scottie;
    Ok… so, I’ve been thinking on this for the day. One of the things that this whole “don’t say gay” bill has done is it has returned all of the forward strides developed over the years that I was both thrilled and jealous to see into ash. When I was in high school, a person didn’t dare admit he was gay, much less be open about it. Oh, there were gay people in the school, obviously, but it was a huge secret. As a result, those of us who hid that from our families, our friends, ourselves, lived in a box of misery and non-development.
    I really do hope the republican shits are proud of themselves.

    hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Randy. And that is the point, the goal they want. They think if they make being gay so horrible people will stop being gay. They think that people choose to be gay or trans, and that more young people are coming out because they are accepted and not terrorized when they do. They do not understand that the number of gay or trans people doesn’t change just the number of people living openly as themselves. Plus terrorized people who are hidden can be ignored. In the Republican world might makes right. Reason and thinking is not accepted, just make people live as you demand they do because you have the power to do so. One of the big differences between the left / right Democrats / Republicans the left wants everyone to be happy / to enjoy life, and the right wants only those who think like them to be happy and to enjoy life. The Republicans cannot understand the idea of live and let live. They feel they must control others and that they have a right to do so. They don’t want to understand or be tolerant. They don’t care how others feel, they have no empathy. They only care how they feel or what they think their god wants. If it makes them unhappy, it makes their god cry. Hugs

      Like

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