#VoicesOfMarion: Damien Rose Leonhardt
As a transgender high school student in Marion County, Damien Rose Leonhardt has experienced firsthand the destructive and harmful effects of discrimination within the school system. Before switching to homeschooling last September, Damien recounts the harassment they experienced and how their mental and physical health suffered in school. Read as Damien acts as a voice for all transgender students currently under fire just for being who they are, and issues a powerful call for schools to protect all students. It is a matter, Damien says, of saving lives.
While broader strides are being made toward protecting the rights of transgender students, counties across Florida continue to move backwards. The Marion County School Board recently passed a policy that prevents transgender students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. In response, over 80 people from throughout Marion County gathered at a town hall to support each other, brainstorm next steps, and share their stories. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of their letters to the School Board to help you get to know the #VoicesofMarion, the people whose lives and loved ones have been intimately affected by this damaging and discriminatory policy. Even in the face of adversity and oppression, the strength of the LGBTQ and ally community is audible through their words. The #VoicesofMarion refuse to be silenced.
Dear Marion County School Board,
My name is Damien Rose Leonhardt. I am a gender nonconforming transgender student here in Marion County. Transgender people are everywhere—according to a study in Vice Magazine, 62% of people under 21 identify as queer. Many kids in Marion County are trans, and this resolution puts all of them in danger, including me.
I came out as transgender in March 2012. I was 13, in eighth grade. At first the kids thought it was strange, but they left me alone. The teachers and staff were actually the first to harass me, which started the students bullying me. The staff’s behavior led to the students’. The way they treated me said to my peers, “It’s okay to bully them, we hate them too.” The same thing happens to every trans kid. I went to high school presenting completely as a boy; I never used the bathroom for fear of other students mimicking the staff and harassing me. I got many urinary tract infections, and had to miss school both to go to the doctors and from being in intense pain from my kidneys.
I left school in September. I started homeschooling because I couldn’t deal with the harassment and health issues anymore. I attempted suicide 11 times during that period in my life, and self harmed many more. You need to protect all students, not put them at risk of harassment, physical abuse, and medical issues. By passing this policy you have said, “We don’t care about you. Go kill yourself, we don’t care.” You’re hurting the kids you say you want to protect. 41% of transgender people attempt suicide. Please don’t exacerbate the problem. Schools are for learning, not planning when to pee.
Please protect us. We need all the help we can get.
Thank you and sincerely,
Damien Rose Leonhardt