Do you have that one teacher who changed your life? For me it was Mr. Morgan, eighth-grade history at Maitland Middle School. I met him at a pivotal point in my life.
When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. I wasn’t a military brat or anything, but for some reason or another I went to a series of different schools in consecutive years. We had moved to Orlando from Houston, Texas just two years prior. I spent the sixth grade at Cheney Elementary School, then off to Glenridge Middle School for seventh grade. That transition wasn’t so bad as some of my friends from Cheney ended up at Glenridge as well.
At some point between seventh and eighth grades, school districts changed and I was to leave Glenridge Middle School for Maitland Middle School. It was a tough pill to swallow for this shy kid who spent two years making a group of friends. If memory serves, my mom tried to get them to keep me at Glenridge, but it was a hard no.
To say I was shy was an understatement. I was an outgoing kid when I lived in Houston, but the older I got and the more I realized I was gay, the more reclusive I became. Being new to a school was not helping me.
I wasn’t the only new kid on the block. Turns out Mr. Morgan was entering his first year of teaching, fresh out of school. I’m not sure if that made us kindred spirits or that there was some sort of subliminal pity we took on each other to make each other’s lives less miserable, but we hit it off.
He seemed to believe in me and I was there for him when he seemed to be struggling with the rest of the class. He knew he could always call on me. Mr. Morgan became our school’s volleyball coach and encouraged me to join the team. His encouragement made me feel like I belonged, like I was needed.
As a teacher he made me feel smart because he made learning fun. My grades increased from mostly C’s at Glenridge to straight A’s. His excitement for history became my excitement for history. It’s not groundbreaking to say that if you study history you are less likely to repeat its mistakes, but it was his mantra. History, he believed, is what could make us smarter — and he was right.
I was reminded of this recently while watching the Max docuseries “Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York.” It’s a show that highlights the victims of these brutal New York murders of the 1990s. The documentarians spend a good deal of time covering the general vitriol towards the queer community, speculating why people felt so comfortable displaying such hate.
They go back to the days of Anita Bryant, the orange juice spokesperson turned anti-LGBTQ+ crusader. She is portrayed as a crazy outlier who is looked down upon nationally. Her mission was to overturn LGBTQ+ protections passed in Miami while keeping the queer community away from children. She was able to garner enough local support to make it happen, and for decades we suffered that loss.
Does that all sound a little too familiar? The focus right now is on the drag community and the false perception that they are somehow harmful to children. The focus is now on parents who want to provide gender-affirming care for the child they know and love, and the perception that they are somehow harmful to children. Here we are, Florida. History trying to repeat itself.
We can’t dismiss this fight if we aren’t drag queens. We can’t dismiss this fight if we aren’t trans or parents of trans kids. We are all connected. When one of us is pushed back in the closet, we all take steps toward the same fate.
We know the decades of struggle we face when we let hate win, so we must actively stand together and defeat the hate that looks to defeat us.
I went back to Maitland Middle to catch up with Mr. Morgan after I graduated college. I learned he passed away unexpectedly of a brain aneurism. I regretted never getting the chance to tell him how much that year meant to me and the huge impact he had on my life, but I hope he somehow knew.
Every year Watermark picks a topic to cover in a photo essay. This year we let the talented Dylan Todd work his magic with local cosplayers. I’m sure you will find his work fascinating.
We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.