Two students share their LGBTQ experiences
With the excitement of Dew Days now passed, some Farmington residents look forward to a new parade taking place in Minneapolis this coming weekend.
Sarah Skoda, a recent graduate of Farmington High School, loves music and practicing leadership skills with her fellow peers. She looks forward to celebrating MN Pride with her girlfriend.
As one of the leaders for the Gay Straight Alliance, Skoda said that this past year has been one of the best. She was able to attend prom with her girlfriend among compliments and well-wishers.
It hasn’t always been that easy in Farmington.
“Coming out in Farmington had its ups and downs,” she said. “I came out in eighth grade to some people and then more publicly in ninth grade. It definitely took a toll on my mental health; I got really depressed and started self-harming. I just hated feeling so different from everyone else. I wanted to be normal, not even so much for me but for my family, especially my younger brothers, and my friends. I knew it would affect people around me and I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
While suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens, youths who identify as LGBT are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm). The Pride festival and parade celebrates these youths and adults who may have experienced teasing, bullying or harassment.
“The thing is, when I came out it was still a relatively rare thing at our school,” Skoda said. “There weren’t many gay people and people still were getting used to them existing at all. But this year was definitely the best year all around but especially in terms of being an out lesbian with a girlfriend.”
With GSA, Skoda and other seniors hoped to give younger students a safe place to go.
She said the experience taught her a lot about how to talk to her peers about the issues they face.
Skoda advised students that it isn’t necessary to come out; safety and comfort come first. When it came to dealing with homophobic situations, Skoda advised younger students, “Know when something is worth your energy, and when it is safer to just walk away.”
She says that it’s getting better for LGBT youth, but it’s still a work in progress.
“When we talked about dealing with homophobic people we told them things very bluntly because we believe that there is no point in really sugar coating things most of the time because it’s not going to help them,” Skoda said. “We told them that: ‘Yes, there is pretty much always going to be someone that doesn’t like you but how you respond to the prejudice will make or break you.’ ”
Forming a group was a natural outlet for Skoda, who was involved in marching band; Peers 4 Peers; Youth Teaching Youth; speech; Girl Scouts; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, and more.
She said going to the Pride festival felt especially important to her because she felt like she was “finally in a place where there was no judgment, no dirty looks, no one expecting you to be anything other than who you truly are.”
Jaxon Blake Laube, an incoming seventh-grader at Boeckman Middle School, looks forward to attending Pride for the first time with his mom, Alison Laube.
Laube, a social studies teacher at Farmington High School, leads the GSA group, which meets regularly talk about topics, watch movies, play games, do crafts or listen to speakers.
“It is a time to connect and have a safe place to be,” Jaxon said. “If someone is being bullied, they make a plan on how to address it.”
Jaxon, born Elisabeth (Ellie), knew that he wanted to be a boy since the age of 3. He said every prayer and wish went toward wanting to be a boy.
He started wearing boy clothes at a young age, and cutting his hair shorter and shorter. The summer before sixth grade, he learned the meaning of transgender and is spending this summer fully transitioning to his new identity.
Jaxon is especially grateful to Farmington for being so supportive.
He said the schools, the community, his church, and the sports community have all been supportive in his journey.
“I gradually came out to my friends and family, and eventually the whole school,” he said. “A lot of students now come to me for help if they are struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Transgender issues have recently gained more media attention with public figures like Laverne Cox and former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner speaking out against bathroom bans and legal rights. While those who identify as transgender in America comprise about 0.3 percent of the population, 20 to 40 percent of those who are homeless identify as transgender because they are often rejected by their families.
“Too often we look over how difficult it can be for parents to accept that their child is gay or transgender,” Skoda said. “I just want them to know that everything will be OK and that love will overpower everything else in this world.”
“I would like people to know that being LGBTQ+ is really hard, so don’t make it harder by teasing them, because they might be going through things that you probably don’t understand,” Jaxon said.
The two-day Pride event features a festival in Loring Park and a parade down Hennepin Avenue.
More about the festival is at https://www.tcpride.org/event/2017-twin-cities-pride-festival.