I Am Florida: Nich Rardin
Over the decades, the LGBTQ community has been subject to violence and discrimination that has come to a head with the recent massacre at Pulse Nightclub. It is a community that has been united in their oppression, but even more so in their resilience, strength, and hope. Now, more than ever, the stories of people within this community serve as a reminder of our humanity, our diversity, and our collective drive toward positive change. Through sharing stories of inequality and advocacy from people across the state, Equality Florida is elevating ally and community voices to come out and say #IAmFlorida. I am here. And most of all, I matter.
Nich Rardin is 17 years old, going into his senior year in the IB program at Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida. If the name of the school sounds familiar, that’s because it was the epicenter of the controversial anti-trans bathroom policy passed by the Marion County School Board in April, one of many across the state designed to prevent transgender students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. While Nich identifies as a gay, cisgender student, he was one of the first in his school to lead the pushback and to join with his fellow students in voicing their dissent and disapproval of the discriminatory policy.
The Marion County bathroom policy is another episode in a decades long stream of discrimination toward the transgender community — for years, identifying and presenting according to one’s biological sex has been treated by society as a prerequisite for safety, happiness, health, and even humanity. When asked why he focuses much of his activism on transgender rights, Nich responded with conviction, “It’s not like one thing is more important than another, but right now in the LGBTQ acronym the ‘T’ has been forced to be silent for too many years. It’s time for that to change.”
Before the bathroom policy was passed, Nich made and posted a video on YouTube titled “Trans Lives Matter” in response to the high level of nationwide (and global) brutality against the transgender community, and the lack of protections afforded to people who identify as transgender. Nich said it got a significant amount of attention and support from his classmates, and when the bathroom policy was passed there were already a number of students who cared about the issue and were ready to come together in response.
“We organized [a protest] in three days, just with a group chat with whoever we thought would participate,” Nich said. “The policy really baffled me because Vanguard is probably one of the most accepting schools in the area — we have a little bit of everything. Students don’t really care how you present yourself if you’re a good person. Having a policy put in place where students are being sectioned off really upset me along with many other people.”
Nich said that since he entered high school in 2013, he’s become increasingly aware of the issues going on regarding LGBTQ rights in our country. Because his generation is very involved online, he noted, it makes getting stories and messages across an incredibly powerful tool. “I could see everything that was going on around the world, even in my own state of Florida, in an instant.” The hate crimes, the police brutality, the suicides — Nich was exposed to every violence and injustice that happened in the LGBTQ community with a disturbing clarity, immediacy, and detail not afforded to previous generations without unfettered access to the internet and recording devices. The only reason he didn’t start doing anything until this year, he said, is because “It’s really hard, as a 14 to 18 year old, to see how you can help, how you can make an impact.” But what he realized, Nich shared, was that anything you can do does help.
“I think every movement starts with talk, whether good, bad, malicious, whatever — there’s no such thing as bad publicity. It’s sad that we have to go through such violence, hurt, pain, and suffering to start a movement, but hearing about this gets people to think and be more open minded. Hearing about these stories and what [the transgender community] has lived through, it humanizes them. We are making a change, just through the little things. All of these stories are being publicized now.”
Finally, Nich emphasized the importance of using social media as a platform for activism and change, and spoke about how essential it is that we stand in solidarity in the face of violence and brutality. “We all have to come together as a community, we can’t remain separate during this time. We can’t afford division, to be broken down, we need to stand together and fight for equality.”
Check out Nich's YouTube video, Trans Lives Matter.
Story by Hannah Powell