At Fishback Creek Public Academy there were about 25 students in Mr. Cooper’s fifth grade class. Circular tables filled the room, and among the four to five students sitting at “the bad-kid table” was Major Hughes.
For many, fifth grade is a distant memory, but for Hughes it was a life-changing experience. Hughes, now a junior at Pike High School, sat in his seat trying to understand his gender and sexuality. However, before he could openly accept it, he was outed by one of his classmates.
“It was really frustrating,” Hughes said. “The silence hurt the most.”
It may have been hard to remember the weird looks and the harsh words, but he could not forget the silence he received from his closest friends when they learned of his sexual orientation.
Outed is a term used when an LGBTQ+ member’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is revealed without that person’s permission. After being outed, Hughes became quiet and reserved. Today, after learning more about himself, he is open to sharing his journey as a Black transgender man.
Whether it be in school, on social media, in public or around their family, teenagers today are more open about their sexuality than in the past. Many have seen this transformation and attribute these changes to the growing presence and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
Allen Wright, 16, came out on Instagram last month. He received a lot of positive feedback and support from his friends and followers and believes the media has an influence on students’ openness with their sexuality.
“Ever since I have came out on social media, I have become more comfortable with myself,” he said.
The junior at KIPP Indy Legacy High School has now come out to a few teachers at school but has yet to come out to anyone in his family because they are very religious. He plans to come out to his family while he is in college.
Pike’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club adviser, Chad Heck, believes having LGBTQ+ mentors and role models plays a crucial role in students’ self-expression in school.
“I think that it’s really important that students see LGBT in our schools,” Heck said.
Whether it be teachers, parents or peers, Heck believes that seeing people open and unapologetic about their gender and sexuality inadvertently supports students in understanding themselves and their sexuality.
When you first walk up to the classroom door of Ben Davis English teacher Debra Aquino, you see a rainbow poster with the words “Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming and a Safe Space for Everyone.” Inside the classroom, the ceiling tiles are covered in hand-drawn rainbows, a Black Lives Matter poster is taped to the whiteboard and a rainbow flag hangs in the back of the classroom.
Aquino, along with her wife, English teacher Samantha Garcia, founded LGBTQQ and Friends to create a safe and open environment for students to be themselves.
“Everyone can be who they are,” Aquino said. “They recognize that they don’t all have to be the same.”
The club was created in 2019, and while the club was made for students, the advisers are also learning a lot about gender and sexuality from its students. Aquino said it will be a while before anyone completely understands gender and sexuality.
As they continue to learn new things from the students, it is important to keep an open mind and make sure the students’ voices are heard.
Wright advises anyone who is trying to understand their gender and sexuality to take their time.
“Don’t rush knowing yourself because that will just stress you out,” Wright said.
Contact staff writer Abriana Herron at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @abri_onyai.