June is Pride Month! This is a month in which members of the LGBTQIA+ community are put into the spotlight as they fight for equity, acceptance, and the right to be themselves. But Pride doesn’t go away after June. I talked to Avonworth Alum Patrouious (pronounced Pa-troo-us) Achatz about his experience as a trans student trying to navigate high school in a less accepting time.
He wasn’t out as trans during high school in the late 2000’s at Avonworth. “I wasn’t out as trans because if I would have come out as trans, god only knows what would have happened then.” But he was a known member of the LGBTQ+ community. He explained how it came to be known by others that he was LGBT, and it’s not a story of kindness.
“And someone from the football team at the time messaged me on YouTube catfishing me pretending to be a lesbian student at the school and started to try to get me, kinda like force me out as a lesbian at the time.”
After outing himself to the football player disguised as another student, he asked that actual student what was up with the message. But she told Patrouious that she didn’t actually use YouTube. “So I messaged the individual who messaged me on YouTube and they admitted that they only did it to see if the rumors were true that I was a lesbian. I remember crying and getting really upset because this person got it out of me,” he said.
Things did not get much better from there: “They physically assaulted me and I reported it to the principal at the time and nothing was done.”
In 2009, he went on to try and start a Gay-Straight Alliance Club (GSA Club) but was met with resistance. “I remember back in 2009, … saying to my former friend who was the president of student council at the time. Being like, ‘we need a GSA club.’ And trying to get that started. I remember the reactions were, ‘yes, we need this.’ But there was no way that the school would support this. No way the school board would approve; no way that any teachers would be in support of this club. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I became more out about being a member of the LGBT+ community.”
Despite constant backlash from the school and other students, Patrouious did his graduation project on LGBT, or more specifically, an arts organization known as “Dreams of Hope.”
“They are an arts organization for LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 to 21. Back when I was in it, they were only a theater troop and they offered a summer camp and an open mic program where there was a lot of poetry being done.”
He didn’t explain exactly how his graduation project related to them, but he did explain how people reacted. “Surprisingly, there was a lot of support from alumni who graduated in the 2010’s who were actually part of the judging with the graduation project. But some of the community members who were more of an older generation thought it was inappropriate because it had to do with the LGBTQ+ community.”
In 2017, some students attempted to start a GSA club. Dr. George and also the mother of a former friend messaged Patrouious to let him know that something he had been trying to create for years was finally happening. He went to the school board meeting and gave his thoughts to the parents there. “Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get this to happen? And [do] you know how many students after me have tried to get this to happen? There were people who have tried to stop them from doing this. It’s about time something was done.”
He continued to admonish the school by saying “I find it really disturbing that you didn’t have anti-discrimination protection in place in regard to sexual orientation until the end of my junior year of high school and there was no mention of gender identity at all.”
Not much time has passed since Patrouious, now an Accessibility Liason for Pennsylvania Youth Congress, went to Avonworth, but the school district has changed, and changed, and changed.
The Primary Center was built, the elementary school finally got air conditioning, and the LGBTQ community is finally starting to be accepted with GSA at the high school. It’s not quite perfect – and may never truly be – but Avonworth has finally begun to show that it cares about its queer students.