2008 Youth Scholar - Evie Farnsworth, Hume Fogg Academic Magnet, Nashville, TN
"Evie's enthusiasm for and commitment to civil liberties are contagious. She is the core of our Support Student Safety project – no doubt the success of the project thus far is, in great part, due to her leadership, tenacity, and skills. Evie embodies my idea of what a student activist is and should be."
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Evan Farnsworth (Evie) was inspired by the suicide of her gay uncle to become engaged in LGBT issues in her Nashville, TN high school. She is a founding member of a student-led coalition to get the Metro Nashville School Board to expand the student non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity, expression, and appearance. Through a comprehensive public education campaign, the students have built up a coalition of Nashville's most respected child welfare and youth groups dedicated to showing how anti-gay and anti-transgender bullying affects all students. Evie and the rest of the Support Student Safety coalition hope that their efforts will be a model for other students who want to make positive change within their school districts. Evie is also active in her school's GSA, and helped to organize campus events like the Hume Fogg AIDS Walk, National Transgender Day of Remembrance, World AIDS Day and the National Day of Silence.
Evie's Scholarship Essay
I am eight years old. I am staring at a portrait of a man whose face is everywhere in the house, but I cannot find him among all the faces that marvel at my recent ascension from an incoherent toddler to a developing child. I am in Greenville, South Carolina, at the home of Jim and Betsy Farnsworth, my grandparents, where family presence is necessary for survival. Yet I cannot account for the absence of this man while I recognize all the pictures of my uncles, aunts, and cousins in spite of their unfamiliar youth. Being curious and impertinent, as most children are, I sought out my father to inquire why this stranger had not come to witness me like all my other relatives had.
The man was my grandparents' oldest son, my Uncle Jimmy, my father told me. I asked where he was. Upon reflection, I realize I witnessed an internal struggle in him that many parents face, which is whether to expose their children to the concept of death when they stumble upon it. I remember sitting on his bed, impatiently awaiting the answer, as he reluctantly told me the truth.
"Your Uncle Jimmy isn't here because he died," he said. "He didn't want to be here anymore. It made him too sad."
The absurdity of such a concept, the thought of not wanting to experience life, was almost humorous to me. The deepest sorrow I had ever experienced was my sister stealing and destroying my favorite dress at that point, which hardly seemed bad enough to take my leave of the world's seemingly endless opportunities. Of course I asked him the question that he was surely hoping to avoid.
He shows even more discomfort and hesitation this time. The struggle is stronger and more pronounced. He finally decides to tell me something that will shape my life in several different forms that lead to who I am today.
"Because he was something called a homosexual, and it made him so unhappy to be one that he decided to end his life."
That was my first definition of homosexuality, something that heralds misery so acute that it causes a desire for life to end. Somehow my childish mind made the connection that being gay meant one would suddenly drop dead, so I began to fear it like a disease. I harbored this fear throughout the rest of my childhood, never understanding that what my father said was a mistake. If someone had merely corrected me, and if I hadn't been too scared to ask anyone about it, I would have been able to avoid an emotional turmoil that defined my youth.
When I turned 13 or 14 and began to develop a mind of my own, the amount of time it took me to realize that my fears were completely nonsensical was dramatically short. I instantly became aware that walking too close to a member of the opposite sex did not mean that I would die of homosexuality. In an effort to compensate for such a long time spent in delusion, I decided to learn more about Uncle Jimmy and about phrases like "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."
I confronted my dad about Uncle Jimmy when I was 14 years old. The conversation remains a vivid picture in my mind, because it was the source of another great change in my life. As he apologized through tears for inadvertently causing me so much pain, he tried to rectify what he meant. He told me about Uncle Jimmy being approached in bars by straight men that would drive him out to the middle of nowhere, beat him mercilessly, and abandon him. I was told about how he loved Greenville and refused to leave in spite of all the hatred and malice that he endured there, all because he was different from everyone else. The isolation and sorrow he bore from loving a community that received him only with cruelty and rejection indeed made life a painful experience. I understood now what I could not fathom as an eight-year-old girl-life could be less desirable than death.
After learning about Uncle Jimmy's death, I resolved to do anything I could to fight the kind of fear and misunderstanding that had attacked him. The moment I began high school, I looked into the school's Gay-Straight Alliance and joined it. I have been a member ever since, as treasurer in my sophomore and junior years and vice president my senior year. Since sophomore year I have helped put together the Hume Fogg AIDS Walk teams, organized events such as National Transgender Day of Remembrance, World AIDS Day, and the National Day of Silence, and helped design and make the GSA t-shirts.
Though all of these school events have had a considerable impact on my growth as an activist, the most important decision I made in my high school career was joining the MNPS: Support Student Safety Coalition. This project's purpose is to advocate for a comprehensive anti-discrimination code that will be adopted by Metro Nashville Public Schools by next year. During the summer, I helped collect research about other southeastern school districts and facts about school climate and student safety. Since the school year started, I have given presentations to various community organizations, youth boards, and interest groups about this project along with the other students in the coalition. I attend the meetings every week, I contact and schedule dates for many of the people we meet with, which include board members and community figures, and inform individual students, teachers, and parents about the project to promote community support. This project, in which I was thrust into a role of leadership, has given me fearlessness that I will use in promoting social change wherever I go.
The thought of my uncle – a good, loving man – suffering such hate due to his necessary state of being is the source of all my passion for gay rights. I strongly believe that every person in this world is owed the right to embrace his or her individuality. Most importantly, each individual deserves to be loved no less for being any more different than others. Hate is nothing but an active form of fear, and it is unproductive, unnecessary, and hurtful in every way. While anger, sorrow, and pain have their justifications, hatred has no righteous place among humanity. My deepest desire is that peace can be given to those who have been robbed of it by a misinformed and unkind society, and I will fight for that peace with all the power I possess.