"Mom, I like girls ... ."
That's what I wrote five years ago in my coming out letter to my mom. I was 11 at the time I wrote the letter, and I didn't know that my mom would become my fiercest supporter, giving me the courage and strength to walk through the halls of my schools as a proud, out lesbian.
It's that same courage and strength that made me hopeful that the day would come when I'd no longer face physical attacks or name calling by other students at my school in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District.
That day finally came last week.
In 2011, I joined five other students in lawsuits challenging a district policy that made it hard for school staff to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming kids from bullies. The lawsuits were resolved last Monday, setting up changes that will make district schools safer for students like me.
My mom gave me my bravery, but it's been a long time since I've been able to walk with my head held high without having to look over my shoulder—on high-alert for my schoolmates attacking me or yelling "dyke" or "faggot" at me.
The bullying started the very first day I walked through my new middle school three years ago, with students staring, pointing, and throwing degrading insults at me because I like wearing baggy pants, oversized T-shirts, and caps over my braids.
Teachers couldn't stop the bullying, and the insults got even more vulgar and violent as students pushed me into lockers, with one student even punching me in the stomach after calling me a “he-she.”
The bullying was constant, and it began taking its toll on me. No one should ever have to experience what I've been through, or any other type of bullying and harassment that LGBT students have faced in the school district. I'm glad I had my mom's support to stand up for myself, and to challenge the district's policy by filing the federal gender and sexual orientation harassment lawsuits against the district with the five other bullied students from the district.
The changes that are now on their way make me hopeful that other students—today and in the future—will never be humiliated or hurt by their school peers, and that through my experiences and action, others will be able to walk down the halls of their school, unafraid to be who they are.
I no longer have to look over my shoulder at school. I will be safe, just like every student deserves. I will hold my head high. I can be out, and proud.