Old Rochester Regional students join national walk out over anti-LGBTQ legislation

Mar 11, 2022

Students at Old Rochester Regional High School joined a national walk out Friday afternoon to protest legislation across the country that they say further stigmatizes LGBTQ youth.

More than 100 students gathered outside the high school Friday afternoon to show solidarity and support for students in states like Texas, Florida and Idaho, where these laws and directives are being passed.

Even though sophomore Alia Cusolito goes to school in Massachusetts, the recent legislation and directives in other states targeting transgender children and those who help them receive care hits close to home.

Cusolito, 16, said they have a friend in Texas who’s transgender and scared. Cusolito’s friend is worried by Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order that calls some gender-affirming care for transgender children as possible child abuse.

“I have friends in a lot of these states,” Cusolito said in an interview before the walk-out, describing the anti-LGBTQ laws rolling through state legislatures across the nation in recent weeks.

Cusolito was joined by students closer to home for Friday’s walk-out, which brought more than 50 students streaming out the school’s entrance.

Sippican Week was told to leave campus as students began to assemble.

The contested legislation is wide-ranging and in various stages of being enacted across the country.

In Florida, the Parental Rights in Education law — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents — would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. That bill is on its way to Gov. Ron Desantis’ desk for final approval.

In Texas, a Feb. 22 letter from Gov. Greg Abbott directs the state’s Department if Family and Protective Services to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse. The order, criticized by many in recent weeks, follows an opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that some such treatments can be legally classified as child abuse.

Many national medical organizations agree in their support for gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

“As I often tell families, gender-affirming care is creating space for children to be able to tell us their gender story, rather than filling in the end of the story for them,” wrote Dr. Brittany Allen, M.D. in a recent American Association of Pediatrics statement opposing such legislation. “In that journey, gender-affirming care may draw on evidence-based medical tools — such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy — at developmentally appropriate ages. These tools have been shown to help reduce gender dysphoria and improve mental health for many transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse youth.”

The legislation, like the Florida law that could ban even discussion of gender identity, worries Cusolito and others protesting Friday afternoon across the nation. Friday’s national walk out was organized by Queer Youth Assemble, of which Cusolito is a member, but students nationwide have already been protesting for days.

On Friday, Cusolito was the first one at the bulldog statue, getting ready to hand out posters to fellow students as the organizer stuck a mini transgender pride flag in their boots.

Principal Mike Devoll stood outside and watched the walk out as it began.

Devoll sent an email to ORR parents Thursday night letting them know that students had planned the walk out and worked with administrators to select an approved location for the walk out.

“As a school district, we remain neutral on the political viewpoints expressed by students while staying clear of promoting political views of any kind,” Devoll’s statement reads.

Days before the protest, Cusolito said one reason Queer Youth Assemble chose to protest on Friday was in honor of a transgender student and member of the Massachusetts GSA Leadership Council who died by suicide on March 11, 2020.

“We’re going to keep fighting for you,” Cusolito said.

The laws being discussed and enacted around the country are harmful, they said, and create stigma at a young age.

“If someone tells you they know who they are and what they need,” Cusolito said, “believe them.”