By John Hayden
A high school diploma is something most of us have and take for granted. A lack of a high school education is a real problem for much of South Florida’s LGBTQ+ community where the dropout rate is about 15% among LGBTQ+ and a staggering 20% in the trans population – nearly four times the national average.
Pride Fort Lauderdale is kick-starting the education process and helping people get their GED. Ashley and Morgan Mayfaire are co-founders of Trans Pride Fort Lauderdale and started developing the idea last year specifically targeting the trans community. The pandemic changed everything. “It was originally planned as an in-person tutoring program,” Ashley told OutClique, “but, the pandemic postponed our launch indefinitely.” The idea found new life and a new partner when Kevin Clevenger became the new Executive Director at Pride Fort Lauderdale at the end of 2020. “He was passionate about creating programming that directly benefited our community and a GED program felt like the right fit. Pride’s Board and leadership team were also excited about the program, and have worked diligently to fund the program through car washes and other COVID-safe fundraisers over the last few months.” The dream grew beyond focusing on the trans community and serving all LGBTQ+ looking to advance their education.
Ashley says a culture of fear, and intimidation drives many LGBTQ+ students out of high school, putting them at a disadvantage that can affect them the rest of their lives. “Incredibly high rates of bullying and harassment, discriminatory school policies, lack of a family and/or community support network, and disproportionate rates of school discipline and involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice system are all factors that cause these rates to be so high.” The obstacles to education only get bigger as they get older. “Earning a GED as an adult learner also poses special challenges for LGBTQ+ students, including the cost associated with enrolling in a prep course, and the risk of other students holding anti-LGBTQ+ views. The same bullies that these LGBTQ+ people faced in school are sometimes the adult learners that they encounter in GED classes, and the same hostile learning environment is recreated for that student.”
With in-person tutoring still out of the question the program has gone online and that may end up benefiting even more students. “We also provided each student with a laptop equipped with the technology to participate in video calls, and run the online course materials. It has definitely helped us reach more people in both Broward County and Miami-Dade County, since they do not need to worry about finding transportation to attend in-person tutoring.”
The students are required to attend a two hour virtual tutoring session for several weekends, complete an online prep course, and take all four parts of the GED exam. At the end, hopefully they have their GED and Pride Fort Lauderdale lets them keep the computer, helping them start this new chapter in life.
The first class started in February 2021 and Ashley says it’s a diverse group. “The inaugural class is a diverse mix of LGBTQ+ folks, with an age range from 19 to 55 years old. Our students are interested in earning their GED for a variety of reasons, including to help them access continuing education opportunities, have more earning potential in their employment, and to accomplish a goal that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination prevented them from achieving in the past.”
One of the biggest obstacles to get people to sign up is the sense of shame they harbor around their lack of education. The program’s first goal is to remove that stigma. “We are so inspired by our first cohort of students that have committed to achieving their goals despite the barriers that life has put in their way. We should be celebrating their dedication and resilience, and we feel that our GED program does that through supporting and equipping our students with the tools they need to succeed.”