When Christopher Vasquez was a teenager, he and a group of other teens visited the Florida capitol to lobby for the Dignity for All Students Act, an anti-bullying bill. The visit didn’t go as well as he had hoped. Christopher explains:
I met with my legislator one time and he actually went off on an anti-gay tirade on me and three other youth who were in the room. He was probably in his 70s just this dinosaur of a legislator. He started talking about how God hates gays and how we were all going to Hell. I think one person in the room was 16, two of us were 17 and one of us was 18.
Fortunately for Christopher, a reporter was in the room when the event took place. The story was all over Florida media and even made it to national media, like MTV. Christopher recalls the negative-turned-positive experience:
It started this debate about not only anti-bullying measures in schools and whether gay youth are safe but also whether a legislator should be able to tell youth that they are going to hell and whether people agree with it.
Continue Reading to watch Christopher’s story.
My name is Christopher Vasquez, and I am from Orlando, Florida. Ten years ago, this year actually, I started working with Equality Florida, the largest LGBT organization in Florida. I actually went up to Tallahassee with them a couple times to lobby for the Dignity for All Students Act, which would be a modern day Anti-Bullying bill which has gone around the state’s houses now. Every year we took about 200 students up to the state house and state senate and we just went from door to door and gave them the statistics about gay youth and about their suicide rates and we tried to convince them there was a bill being circulated by a couple members of the state house and state senate that would have banned harassment based on a whole list of issues but it would have also tacked on sexual orientation and gender identity to the end of it.
My story continued because I met with my legislator one time and he actually went off on an anti-gay tirade on me and there other youth who were in the room. He was probably in his 70s just this dinosaur of a legislator. He started talking about how god hates gays and how we were all going to hell. I think one person in the room was 16, two of us were 17 and one of us was 18. So we were all definitely youth, very young kids, by no means what you would imagine as the intellectual match for a state legislator. I stood my own in the room and didn’t let him get to me, whereas my other three friends in the room all left, they were very shaken by the moment because you don’t expect the person who represents you in your government to be sitting there and spouting these hateful lies to you, basically telling you you’re going to hell because of a choice that wasn’t yours to choose in the first place. So I sat through his speech and after a little banter between the two of us, I thanked him and I left and the second I stepped out I immediately burst into tears because it was very hard on me to actually sit there and know that people had voted for this person and that this is how he feels and this is a person who stands in the way of gay youth living happily and not taking their own lives.
I was very fortunate though because he knew the whole time that there was a reporter in the room with us following the youth around for this lobby day where about 200 bills went up, it was a big deal. After it happened the reporter obviously realized that you don’t every day hear about politician telling youth that they’re going to hell, so the minute we got out of the room she got a couple of quotes from me and got on the phone with the editor of the Tampa Tribune and the story broke within an hour and a half, two hours, made it on to the Tampa Tribune and the next day made it into every major paper in Florida. Within a week it was on ABC Nightly News and MTV News so it made a large round and continued for several months. It started this debate about not only anti-bullying measures in schools and whether gay youth are safe but also whether a legislator should be able to tell youth that they are going to hell and whether people agree with it.
It was definitely a positive experience as a whole because it definitely got people talking about something that people didn’t think was a problem I believe by and large that the major portions of the population would have never known that gay youth were so endangered every day in school. It definitely was a positive step in the right direction unfortunately from a bad start.