• One year ago today – or close enough to make a good column – I stepped away from journalism after close to 30 years.

    In my first hours as a free woman, I created Okaloosa Stories – this website – where I could continue to write. I was afraid I would miss it. I haven’t. I haven’t missed the weekly pressure to share my thoughts, the hourly pressure to monitor the world around me in case I missed something.

    There’s a term for that, according to my now-adult children. FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. I was sure I’d have FOMO if the world went on around me without me writing about it.


    Now, 12 months later, I am struck by an urge to write. My muse was a beautiful spring day, a long-legged stride, sunshine on my face and a song I’ve recently rediscovered nearly 50 years after I loved it last.

    How did 50 years pass since I first heard Frankie Valli sing “My Eyes Adored You?” Fifty years since I was a freckle-faced awkward little girl, who couldn’t know she wouldn’t be blessed (or cursed) by puberty for another five years. Fifty years since I chased a boy whose name was, I think, Fred Conti, around the playground every recess.

    He was serious about running away. I wasn’t the only one chasing and I think he may have been late to the puberty game, too.

    But back to the song.

    It reminds me of all the longing of adolescence in the 60s and 70s, before children became adults too soon, before we had 24-hour-a-day access to our friends, before we started “dating” in elementary school.

    “My eyes adored you. Though I never laid a hand on you. My eyes adored you. Like a million miles away from me, you couldn’t see how I adored you. So close and yet so far.”

    Frankie Valli poured those words into us.

    I rediscovered this song last month. In my new life, I guard at the pool a mile from my house. I teach children and adults to swim, to love the water, to be safe in it. I raise money for a foundation that pays for lessons families can’t afford and gives everyone the opportunity to swim.

    It’s simple and beautiful – the sound of water, the people who pass back and forth in front of me, the satisfaction of watching someone float for the first time, the joy of blowing underwater bubbles with a child. I fall in love every day.

    One of these days a few weeks ago, I was guarding the pool during a morning aquacise session and this song came on.

    I went back to the days when I had two parents and played outside and slept in a room with an odd corner housing the chimney so that it was always warm in the cold Illinois winter. I went back to before I dated at age 16, before I moved away from home, before I got married and divorced and married again.

    It was like an old VCR tape rewinding and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that listening to this song pierced my heart a little. Those years are gone. So many. I’m not sure I loved each and every one the way it deserved. I cannot go back. We can’t. I can’t vacuum away the wrinkles and the mistakes and the age spots. I can’t clean up the mistakes or redo all of the things I would do differently now.

    I won’t allow myself regrets. To change one thing would have changed everything and I couldn’t risk that.

    I am where I should be now, though.


  • Throughout the course of my writing life, I’ve met so many people who are paralyzed by the act of putting words down on paper or etching them onto a screen.

    Much has paralyzed me during my decades of living. I have been frozen at times in the face of everything from driving to trusting to learning new technology.

    But writing has always set me free. It has helped me find paths through the chaos of life, to connect with people and with myself. If life is a jigsaw puzzle, writing has been the gift that sorts the pieces by color, by shape, by their connection to the images around them.

    So it has been strange that I have not needed to write these last few months.

    As you know if you are reading this, I left the world of journalism after three decades earlier this year. I walked away from weekly columns, from sitting down with fascinating people and learning about them, only to recreate their stories in written form.

    I thought I would miss it deeply. I created my blog, Okaloosa Stories, so that I would have an outlet to continue to write. It didn’t matter that the audience would be smaller, perhaps almost nonexistent. I believed I would need to write the way I need to eat, exercise and sleep.

    I was wrong. We so often are.

    In these last six months, I have learned that I have more than one big talent, more than one path to joy and satisfaction. As I go about my daily life now, I write in my head – sifting and sorting the words to delight an audience of one – myself.

    I wander down the same word paths. I sort the relationships of my life into paragraphs and essays. I savor the word pictures that are everywhere and the connections I feel toward the world around me.

    I just haven’t been writing any of it down. I haven’t needed to. And that, like so much else about my life right now, is a gift.

    Perhaps like many women, I spent most of my early years focusing out on the world around me, trying to please, trying to compete, trying to attract attention and establish myself. Trying to prove something to someone always. Too often, I felt I was not enough, or I was too much. I had to work harder, try harder and discover again and again that while I’d checked one box successfully, there were pages and pages to go.

    After spending six months with my grown children during the pandemic, I left the newspaper where I had thought I would retire, and never looked back. I found another newspaper, loved what I did there and, when it no longer felt right for me, left that and haven’t looked back.

    I no longer felt the need to please or impress or prove anything. I returned to simple work that I enjoyed – lifeguarding at our beautiful Bernie pool – and embraced the challenge of teaching children and adults to swim. It has been pure joy, not always easy but always satisfying.

    My body is being used, my mind is being used, my heart is full.

    If I’m not sitting by the edge of a pool, watching and listening to people swim, I’m in it teaching children and adults to understand their relationship with the water, how to lie on it peacefully, how to enter it safely, how to move through it.

    When I’m not doing that, I’m helping with other tasks to make the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation, which runs three publicly accessible pools in Okaloosa County, stronger and more successful.

    In every direction, I find something – a lesson, a friend, a thought, a task to master, a quiet moment. Like one of those old-fashioned sprinklers, I spin on the front lawn of my life, smiling and catching water droplets in my hands and on my face.

    I will write as it fits into the kaleidoscope of my busy days. It is still a part of me. It is no longer the whole of me. And that is as it should be.

  • Two days after rescuing a child from an outgoing tide at Crab Island, Jason Cupp could still feel the fatigue.

    At 49, Cupp is an experienced swimmer, understands the Gulf of Mexico and has been caught in multiple rip currents. In hindsight, he says he should have known better than to handle Monday’s rescue the way he did.

    He should have grabbed the child and let the current carry them until he could break free and swim to shore. Instead, he fought it.

    “The tide was so hard it took me 20 minutes to get 10 feet,” he said.

    Jason Cupp and his family had been at Crab Island for several hours June 28 when the tide turned and a child on a neighboring boat was swept toward the Destin Pass.

    The boy’s family was on a rental pontoon boat at the edge of Crab Island mid-afternoon Monday, when the little boy did a cannonball off the end closest to the Destin bridge.

    Cupp and his family were on their boat nearby. The child’s parents started yelling at them to help, which is when Cupp jumped in. The boy’s two older brothers were also trying to help the child, who Cupp estimates to have been around 10.

    “The little one looked like he was starting to take on water and go under. The look in his eyes was like, ‘I’m a goner,’” Cupp said. “I got behind him and started trying to push him and swim at the same time. It took me a good 20 minutes of fighting that hard outgoing tide.”

    One of the brothers made it to safety unassisted, while Cupp shoved the other one back onto the sandy shelf where he could stand. Without Cupp’s assistance and the life preserver his brother-in-law tossed from their boat, he guesses the boy would have drowned.

    There have already been three drowning deaths at Crab Island this year.

    The tide was so strong at the time it dragged Cupp’s boat, which was anchored, into the deep water. People don’t realize the danger of an outgoing tide, he said.

    “The child gets out there – it’s waist-deep,” he says. “Ten feet later, it’s 6 feet deep.”

    Cupp said that he and his family never anchor that close to the drop-off but stopped there because it was less crowded. Now, he’s glad he was there.

    “It was 100% nonstop pulling me out,” he said of the tide, and much more insistent than a rip current, which also costs lives each season along the coast. “A rip current, you get pulled out and at one point it stops pulling you. It’s a cycle. It pulls out and comes in. At Crab Island, it’s an 8-hour cycle.”

    Signs need to be put up at that point, he believes, warning of the danger.

    “There definitely needs to be something put up there at that edge going toward the bridge where it drops off,” he says. “I told the kids, ‘When you get out, if this ever happens to you again, don’t fight the current.”

  • Life in these last few months has been about choices for me. It always is, of course, for all of us but we can go for months or years without being conscious of making choices. We drift into decisions, we are pulled toward them or pushed. We react, stepping back into a decision or running headlong into one, without being aware that we are in charge of what we do and where we go and how we behave.

    It’s one of those lessons I wish you could learn just once and never forget. Because I know I learned it many times in my first half century of living. But life isn’t like that. We can’t get every lesson tattooed on our forearm where we’ll see it every day and be reminded of our already acquired wisdom.

    All of that is just a long way of saying – we have choices. We make them. And it can be a joy.

    Since leaving my career in journalism, I’ve made so many choices consciously – little ones and big ones. The days – not all of them but many of them – have been filled with microjourneys here and there, steps taken forward and back, good decisions and bad ones, but conscious ones.

    I can sleep in, but should I? I can work extra hours, but is that the best use of my time? I can work off a to-do list and feel accomplished or I can let a day unfold and drift through it, enjoying the gentle breeze blowing me here and there.

    I feel rich in a way I haven’t often felt. I feel a little guilty about feeling rich. About having choices, about not working 50 or 60 hours a week. About being my version of lazy.

    Please don’t read this and assume I’m retired or working only part-time. That’s not really in my spirit. But I am consciously working around 40, which is still nearly half of what I was several months ago.

    And, with all that free time, I’m remembering to choose to work, to choose to smile at people, to choose to be grateful for what I have.

    A friend recently told me she asks herself, “If this was my last day on earth, would I be doing this?” and she pares down her comings and goings and commitments based on that question.

    It’s a good one.

    If this was my last day, I would be writing this column. I would be washing sandals my daughter wore in a swamp a year ago and bagged up to contain the smell. I would be scheduling a water safety class for the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation. I would say sweet stupid things to my bearded dragon rescue and to the bearded dragon my oldest daughter left in my care for the summer.

    I would exercise. I would walk, even if it’s raining, because I still can, and the older you get, the more of a gift movement becomes.

    I would cross some things off my list and ignore other things.

    I could have done all of these things while working many more hours, but I didn’t. I got lost, pulled out to sea in a rip current of demands. I got tired.

    I’m doing them now.

    I’m grateful.

  • The first thing you notice are her eyes, and then her laugh and finally the large artificial sunflower clipped to her wavy gray hair. The flower is the national flower of Ukraine where Lydia Weaver of Fort Walton Beach still has family.

    Her first cousin, a doctor, is there. So, likely, are her cousin’s husband, children and grandchildren. The two women never met but have always known of each other – first cousins trying to connect across continents. They exchanged letters, some censored on her sister’s end, photos and correspondence dating back to their parents’ generation.

    Now, there is only silence.

    “I pray every morning, I pray every day and I pray at night that they’ll do something. This war has got to stop,” Lydia says. “The people who get hurt the most are the innocent people that are just trying to live.”

    In her tidy home in Fort Walton Beach, there is little else she can do for her cousin. But Lydia, who just turned 70, gives each of her days purpose by doing for others. She is a smile to many, a kind act, a baked loaf of sweet bread at Christmas, a bag of jellybeans at Easter. She helps at a local food pantry, she cleans up trash on the beach, she teaches an aquacise class at the Bernie Lefebvre Aquatic Center.

    She learned how to live from her late husband, whom she met nearly 40 years ago on a vacation visit to the Emerald Coast. They parted when her two weeks was up, but it wasn’t over. He made sure of that.

    “The next thing I know he calls, sends flowers,” she says. “Then he came driving up to Massachusetts. Gave me tickets to come up for Christmas.”

    She cautioned him. She was 31. He was 39. She’d already had three back surgeries. He might not want to marry her, she told him. He most definitely did. They were married for 36 years when he died Nov. 30, 2020.

    “He taught me more about living then he ever did about dying,” she says. “I have to live my best life every day. I only have so much time to live. I’ve got to really live it up now.

    “He was the type of person that always gets up and gets dressed, has some kind of plan. He’s trying to put his whole life into this little time. It’s almost like I’m honoring him by living my best life.”

    She will wear a sunflower hair clip for the rest of her life, quietly reminding others of the pain and violence and strife others endure, reminding them of Ukraine.

    “Forever and ever, I’m not going to stop. It will always be with me. I don’t want people to forget.”

  • I grew up reading every book I could find and fighting with my brother over who got to read the back of the cereal box at breakfast. I have been writing most of my life. I look for words everywhere.

    But on Easter Sunday, I found words in unexpected places. I have no explanation for they came to be in the place I found them and I’m not sure that’s what matters.

    They were at Oak Tree Nature Park in Mary Esther, one of my favorite local parks. The trail, which is about two-thirds of a mile, is rippled with roots and padded with soft sand and years of pine straw placed there by nature.

    There are signs in the park, of course, but these are different. They are not rules or information about the plants and trees along the trail.

    They are personal messages from someone. They are quiet. They are purposeful. Someone worked hard to leave each of these messages.

    A tree too large for me to wrap my arms around is doubled over the path in one place. If were taller, I’d have to stoop to walk under it. Heading in one direction, it’s a majestic fallen tree that makes sense in a park where nature does most of the work.

    Walking in the other direction, you see them — three foil letters meticulously screwed into the arch of the tree at least 7 feet off the ground. The letters spell “joy” in a glimmering olive-colored cursive. It’s almost but not quite camouflaged by the bark.

    Joy is a word normally associated with Christmas. It’s not a word we use a lot otherwise. When was the last time someone shared with you that they felt joyful? When was the last time you identified that happy glow as joy? I can’t remember. I’m betting you can’t either.

    I keep walking, consciously reversing my direction at a random point in the trail – something that feels almost wrong. I am a directional person, who has to force herself to focus on where she is at that moment rather than where she’s heading.

    I’m practicing that, practicing paying attention to my surroundings, to my now. The sun makes soft shapes on the path as it sifted through the trees. Different shades of green shift in the light breeze. Walking over the two bridges, I focus on the creaking of the boards under my feet.

    And along that way, I look to my left and notice what appears to be a white fungus growing out of a tree. It has marks on it that look like hieroglyphics at first. My first thought is that an insect traced an erratic path on the mushroom-like object.

    I look again and see a word, spelled out in a slanting almost-cursive.

    “Hey,” the tiny black lines spell. A smiley face the size of a pencil eraser marks one corner.

    I pause and take a photo. I should question it but I am in a state of mind where the nonsensical makes sense.

    I finish my walk and reach the parking lot, where I notice that in a spot cars are normally parked, there is a sign. It’s wooden, mounted on two posts and about the size of a mailbox. I have never noticed it before, even though I have been coming to this park for years. Maybe it’s always been there, between the cars.

    I don’t know. I don’t know anything at this point. I haven’t processed any of it. And as I said at the beginning of this column, maybe it doesn’t matter how or when or why these messages are in the park. Just that they are there.

    “Be Happy,” the wooden sign reads.

    I will try.

  • When I walk, I talk with myself. Notice that I used “with” instead of “to” in that first sentence. As I have gotten older, I noticed how little I talked to myself or listened to myself. All the noise in my head and my world was from the outside in. But my ability to enjoy and process the world comes from the inside.

    So, I have forced myself to talk and listen when I am alone. It feels strange at first. We are so used to having conversations with others, to waiting for them to stop talking so we can start, to sharing others’ sounds and experiences.

    What a gift it’s been to spend time in the quiet hallway of my own thoughts and feelings and needs. I find out that I’m sad or scared. I acknowledge anger.

    I listen to the little girl who grew up uncertain in an unstable family. I tell her what no one knew to tell her back then or in all the years since. You are safe. I am safe. I am strong. I say it once a day or 100 times a day. It’s the wallpaper of my mind.

    And recently I have come to believe it. Bad things will still happen. These words don’t magically change the world around me. They change me. They comfort me. They remind me that I have choices. That I have the power of me. That I can protect that little girl in me who lived too many years with her hand on the receiver, poised to dial 911.

    I’m sharing this with you for two reasons, even though it’s personal.

    The first and most powerful is that I shared it yesterday with a strong, beautiful woman I know, and she cried. She has also spent too much time feeling unsafe and has been looking outside of herself for the assurance that she is OK.

    It’s not something I share a lot, because it seemed for so long like my private baggage to unpack. But maybe the experience is broader than I imagined or maybe the universe just led me to talk to the one other person in the world who is tugging the same suitcase behind her.

    The other reason I’m sharing it is to remind myself.

    It’s easy to drown out your inside world, even when you are alone. You can read, watch television, binge on an old television series that’s livestreamed on your phone. You can busy yourself into oblivion.

    You can go for days without listening to yourself. Or you can pause. Insert small spaces into the craziness that is our lives and listen to your tiny voice. Tell yourself what only you know you need to hear.

    I am safe. You can be, too.

  • Now that I am a relative lady of leisure – I haven’t worked less than 40 hours a week EVER – I find that life is a lot less stressful.

    Hurrying comes naturally to me, but this last month has been much kinder on my schedule. I love everything I do and still have time to exercise, which shouldn’t be confused with me saying that I’m getting all the exercise I need every day.

    I do take a long fast walk or swim six days a week, with my Apple watch monitoring my progress and chiding me into completing my “circles.” On the seventh day, I rest, ignoring my watch and even taking it off early in the evening.

    But all of that is a long road to the point of this column, which is more about being present than being fit. When I’m walking, I’m looking around and listening, letting my brain wander even as I monitor my heartrate and speed to make sure I’m checking my exercise box for the day.

    This morning, I listened to the birds. They are delightfully noisy at this time of year, or maybe they’re always noisy but my brain used to be too full of everything else to hear them. My old life was very busy – so busy that I was too busy to notice that I was too busy. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t work two or three jobs, when I wasn’t throwing myself in multiple directions.

    Yes, we needed the money. But I also like to work, something that not everything can fathom. I like producing, having a purpose, making a difference. I like wearing my “work hat” to interact with people, whether it’s as a reporter, lifeguard or swim instructor.

    And then I like going home.

    It’s the contrast, I believe, a kind of work high, like I used to get after a long run back in the days when I had knees that weren’t talking louder than the birds on my morning walk. Old knees have a lot to say and people with young knees just don’t believe that. I didn’t as I ran through mile after mile of Illinois cornfields in my 20s and 30s.

    I’m glad I got all those miles in back then. You live the best life you can live at that moment if you’re doing things right.

    But, back to the birds.  

    I don’t know which ones were singing or whether they are really conversing. Maybe they are yelling at each other to stay out of each other’s space or having domestic squabbles. Listening was like strolling through the international terminal of an airport, where you are surrounded by the rise and fall of conversations you can’t quite understand.

    I probably wouldn’t have heard the birds talking if I had been talking. If my phone had been pressed to my ear or if I’d been playing a podcast through its speaker. That’s what I did when I didn’t have time. I layered activities on top of each other to fit everything in and filter everything else out.

    Now, my world is more spacious. I can hear it and, in the relative silence, I can hear myself.

    I have a lot of catching up to do.

  • Growing up in Illinois, I was surrounded by dandelions and fireflies. I have actively missed fireflies, having raised three kids in a land without tiny lanterns lighting up the evening hours. I hadn’t noticed the lack of dandelions until last week.

    It took me 25 years to notice that although Northwest Florida has some of the most beautiful wildflowers I have ever seen, they don’t have as many of the soft yellow sunbursts of my childhood.

    In Illinois, dandelions are the homeowner’s equivalent of fire ants. You don’t choose them. They choose you. You’re not sure why or how or what the next steps would be to stop inviting them to your yard party. On their long straw-like stems, filled with a milky solution, the flowers bob in the sunshine and the wind until they dry up and turn into wild-haired puffballs of winged seeds.

    Side by side in a yard just a few blocks away was one of each – a blossom and a puffball.

    I almost stopped walking and plucked the puffball to send its floating seeds into the winds.

    Dandelions had the power to give your wishes wings, according to the legends of childhood. I’d be lying if I said I remembered any of those wishes. I can guess, though. I probably wished that my brother would get in trouble for once, instead of me. That my Nana would come back from heaven and love me best again. That my mom would make a pan of popcorn and drizzle melted butter over it and let me watch television on a school night.

    I’m sure I also wished for unlimited wishes to come true, if you can follow that circuitous child’s logic.

    Childhood is a time of unedited wishing. You don’t have to tell anyone what you wished for – in fact it’s part of an unwritten code that if you share that wish, it won’t come true. Since I can’t remember my wishes, I certainly can’t remember my success rate.

    But, based on a website named petalpublic.com, my chances were better in the 60s than they seem to be now. According to this website, which I can only assume is as whimsical as wishing on a wildflower, studies have been done on whether dandelion wishes come true.

    I’m not making that up. The 2018 study by the Blue Tree Experimental Research Laboratory and Dungeon concluded that modern dandelion wishes have a .0003% effectiveness rate.

    “Today, blowing on a dandelion is as magical as kissing a doorknob,” the website said. They may have been making that up.

    As I type these words, I realized how foolish it all sounds, and it makes me smile. We all need the magic of wishing and hoping We all need a little whimsy in our lives.

    My wish for you today is that you make a wish, no matter how many years you’ve been puttering around on this earth. Close your eyes, pick a random magical moment, and make a wish. It doesn’t matter if it comes true.

    All that matters is that you gave it wings.

  • On Friday I got a text from a teacher at Fort Walton Beach High School who didn’t know I’d left the world of newspapers to write on my own terms. It read: “FWBHS where, by order of the governor, some of my students are known and valued, and the rest we need to hide away.”

    This teacher was referencing the legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which sailed through the Florida House and Senate, and awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. It bans discussion or mention of gender issues in primary schools, arguing that school is not the place where children should learn about sexuality. For Florida and for the nation, the bill has triggered debate over whether it infringes on free speech in its stated attempt to protect parental rights.

    However, beyond free speech, and the logistics of schools enforcing such a law, educators, school staff, and, most importantly, students, cite worries, fears, and disagreements with the law. For many, even if their home environment is supportive, school is where teens and preteens spend most of their waking hours, where they are exposed to a diverse group of adult counselors and leaders and where they make friends, argue with friends and fall in and out of love. For others who lack a supportive home environment, the bill threatens more than their free speech—it threatens their ability to be themselves.

    “I’m lucky enough to have parents who will love and support me no matter what, but I also know some students whose parents are not supporting of their gender/sexual orientation and for them, school is one of the only places where they can feel free to express themselves,” a 17-year-old non-binary student told me.

    They and several other students mentioned the damage of LGBTQIA+ history being erased and how that will perpetuate the stigma that something about them is “off” or “different.”

    The students acknowledged that the bill specifically addresses the primary school years but noted language that is vague enough to effectively muffle discussion in any schools where students may not be “mature enough” for it to be “appropriate.”

    The student who told me she was fortunate enough to have a supportive family hasn’t actually come out to them yet. She said she only recently been “completely honest and out to myself,” so telling her family is the next step. But, like other students, she told me she is comfortable with her sexual identity at Fort Walton Beach High School, which all the students I spoke to affirmed as an accepting place where they can be themselves.

    An 18-year-old student who is not out to her family called school a “safe outlet.”

    “It’s just a place where I can be me,” she said.

    She said she’s known she was different since the sixth grade, a year she spent doing virtual school online. Initially, her social outlet was also online.

    Later, when she went back to brick and mortar classrooms, she had the chance to expand that social circle in person.

    If the bill had been in place when she was still learning about her sexuality, she would still be fully in the closet, she guesses. She wouldn’t even be discussing it with friends out of fear that she could be outed if a teacher heard them talking.

    “Though the online space can be great being able to talk about how you are, it’s not great for mental health,” she said.

    Concerned students say the bill could actually endanger the safety of LGBTQ+ kids, forcing them to live in a world where a legalized lack of acceptance could lead to violence and increased rates of teen suicide.

    “That can put a lot of kids in danger who aren’t out to their parents,” a 17-year-old non-binary student told me.

    “I’ve been called slurs,” the teen said. “I’ve had guys tell me the rudest things about being gay. I don’t want other kids to feel like they have nowhere to go.

    “Being gay will be something to be ashamed of again. It will be something negative and bad. It’s something that can really hurt kids.”

    A 17-year-old straight senior also opposes the bill. She said she was raised to understand that everyone is important, unique and special. Her cousin, who does not live in Florida, has recently transitioned, and she filters everything through her love of him.

    “I’m super close to that cousin and he means a lot to me,” she said, adding that he would not be safe if a law like the one being considered in Florida were passed where her cousin lives. “To be able to stand up for him and for my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, it broke my heart to know this was going on.”

    The bill will “tell kids that are queer and kids that fall into any spectrum of sexuality that being queer is a bad thing,” she said. “It is pushing this message. That we won’t need to talk about it. It doesn’t need to be said. It becomes a thing that’s not OK to be talked about. It’s something that needs to be in our classrooms whether it’s educational discussions or part of our curriculum.”

    A 17-year-old junior at Fort Walton Beach High School, who identifies as a straight ally to the LGBTQ+ community, said she understands the intent of the bill, but that the damage it will cause could be far-reaching.

    In her words: “Personally, I can understand the desire to limit explicit topics for very young elementary aged children. That being said, this bill is being brought up in a very archaic way. If this bill passes as is, it is going to harm a lot of LGQBT+ teachers from sharing in a way that straight teachers can … 42% of LGBT youth has considered taking their own life and 67% of LGBT use report that they live in unaccepting households. This bill could skyrocket the first statistic and out those in the second statistic, potentially exposing them to dangerous family situations.”

    These teens, along with others and some school leaders, are holding a peaceful gathering Monday, March 14 at 2 p.m. around the flagpole in front of Fort Walton Beach High School. They represent a cross-section of the student body, each with their own identity and proudly displaying their pronouns of choice, which is how teens and young adults communicate the complexities of who they are.

    They are hoping that the acceptance they find at the school and hope to find at home, will continue to grow. They fear that it won’t.

    One teen told me that she repressed her sexual orientation due to generational expectations and strong messages about how important it was for a woman to find a good husband. She has just made peace with herself and is working through fears of disappointing their family.

    “I know that the people who truly support and love me will do so no matter who I bring home for Thanksgiving dinner or how I identify,” she said.

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