Benjamin Hoffman, father to 12-year-old Leo Hoffman—they/them/their pronouns—spoke out this week after his nonbinary child was violently attacked for displaying a LGBTQ+ Pride flag at a school lunch.
One student took a video of Leo being dragged with the flag around their neck, stomped on and liquid being dumped on them.
The incident took place at Seminole Middle School in Seminole, Florida. Benjamin and Leo moved there at the beginning of 2021, hoping for a fresh start. Leo had just come out as transgender and omnisexual in January but has been bullied by the same group of teens seen in the video.
Benjamin explained he didn't realize the severity of the bullying until he saw the video on Sunday.
Tuesday morning, he went to administrators and by the afternoon, several students had been suspended and expelled. Students expelled are being reassigned to a different middle school.
The scene started when a boy took the Pride flag from Leo on their friends and put it in the trash. Leo decided to take it out of the trash and wear it like a cape.
Benjamin Hoffman explained:
"That's when the tug-of-war ensued."
"Someone put their foot on their back and pushed them back to the ground."
"It's been tough. They've been dealing with this pretty well. But, yeah, it's a hard thing."
Public information officer for Pinellas County Schools Isabel Mascareñas told Bay News 9:
"The students behavior was inappropriate and not acceptable."
"They were suspended and certain students in that group will also be reassigned to another school."
Benjamin doesn't believe that the administators would have taken action if the video posted by his daughter, Ashleigh, hadn't gotten the attention that it did.
He told 10 Tampa Baylocal news:
"My oldest daughter posted the video on Twitter and it just blew up, hundreds of thousands of views."
"People started calling the school and the Sheriff's Office and then things started happening."
Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality with the LGBTQ rights organization, saw the video and said:
"It's important that this type of incident is not just brushed under the rug."
"When we see discrimination and certainly when we see violence against our young people in schools, this is something that we have to address."
Since the video went viral, many people have shared their support for Leo and their family.
Many are questioning if suspension was truly a just punishment.
In an update, Ashleigh explained there is an investigation.
Six students have been suspended so far.
Florida Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist also spoke with the school board on behalf of Leo, which Ashleigh is hopeful will bring positive change in the future.
Crist made a statement about the incident as well:
"Administrators at Seminole Middle assured my office that disciplinary action was being pursued, and I hope the students in question will be able to learn from this and do better in future."
It is imperative something be done, and soon. Rates of suicide attempts among transgender teens reached an alarming rate.
In a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, findings express the urgency of the situation.
The Human Rights Campaign reports:
"More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide."
"Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives."
The HRC suggests a few things that can be done to help transgender students. They hold a Welcoming Schools program where students can learn about LGBTQ history and Pride, which includes virtual trainings for staff and faculty to promote anti-bullying.
LGBTQ+ Youth can get help through:
- TrevorChat — 24/7/365 at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/#services
- TrevorLifeline — phone service available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386
- TrevorText — Text "START" to 678678. Available 24/7/365.
- TrevorSpace — online international peer-to-peer community for LGBTQ young people and their friends at https://www.trevorspace.org/
- Trevor Support Center — LGBTQ youth & allies can find answers to FAQs and explore resources at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/trevor-support-center/#sm.0000121hx9lvicotqs52mb1saenel