All Ryan Stalvey wants is to live in ahome where he is accepted and loved. Legally, it is not so simple for the 16-year-old student at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. Stalvey is transgender; the home he longs to remain in is not the home he shared with his biological family until his mother’s January arrest for abusing him, an alleged video of which has been viewed thousands of times online. In the 15-second video, Stalvey is seated on a couch as a woman he identified as his mother to Folio Weekly Magazine demands he take off his shirt; when he refuses, she rushes at him and can be seen straddling him and wrapping a hand around his throat. Between her repeated expletives and demands that he remove his shirt, his plaintive cry of “Stop choking me” can be heard.
It’s painful to watch.
In a YouTube video, Stalvey explains that his mother wanted him to wear girls’ clothes that day; when he refused, she lost it. This, he told FWM, was a typical fight; the only thing atypical was that on this particular day, he refused to comply. Stalvey says that his mother had been abusing him for years before her arrest. “It really started when she found out I was trans at the end of eighth grade,” he said. “… She told me it was because I’m her child and she’d accept anyone [who was trans] but I’m her child.” In April, the court allowed Stalvey’s mother to attend counseling, perform community service and pay a fine to avoid charges. (FWM was not able to reach Stalvey’s parents before press time.)
Following this most recent episode, four months ago Stalvey moved in with his best friend and his family, where he says he has been welcomed and, more important, accepted. Though he’s happy and safe now, Stalvey has said that if he’s forced to move back in with his biological family, he will probably commit suicide.
That doesn’t change anything in the eyes of the law; Stalvey is in legal limbo. “Right now it’s just a waiting game until my mom goes back to court,” he said.
Stalvey says his foster family can’t adopt him unless his parents sign away their legal rights, so he’s seeking legal emancipation, a somewhat counterintuitive argument as Stalvey is not in a position to take care of himself, nor is that what he genuinely wants. It’s simply the only viable legal option that keeps him from being forced to move back in with his mother, who he said has threatened his life. Right now, all Stalvey’s parents have to do to force him to move back in with them is call the police and report him missing.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Stalvey’s story is the fact that he is one of the lucky ones: He has a home with people who love and accept him, and friends and other supporters rallying around him. He estimated that 65 people showed up at the Duval County Courthouse on April 30 to protest child abuse and support transgender rights generally and his specifically.
Every day, kids just like Ryan Stalvey end up on the streets — or worse — because their families won’t accept their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. In 2012, UCLA College of Law Williams Institute reported that 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBT, as compared with 7 percent of the general youth population. Among homeless LGBT youth, 68 percent reported rejection or ostracization by family members; 54 percent reported abuse. It is no secret that even temporarily living on the streets, where there are extremely high risks of violence, addiction, prostitution and disease, can leave wounds on these children that will never completely heal.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Parents do not have to categorically reject children who do not conform to their own ideals. Unlike being LGBT, bigotry is a choice.
So this Mother’s Day weekend, think for a moment about what it truly means to be a loving and supportive parent. Ask yourself what this world would be like if all mothers (and fathers) stopped trying to force their children to pattern themselves after some arbitrary ideal, if all parents accepted their children regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. At a minimum, there would be a lot fewer kids living on the streets, a lot fewer kids self-harming, self-medicating and drowning in bitter self-loathing. In short, the world would be a better place for the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youths in America who aren’t as lucky as Ryan Stalvey, who will find somewhere to sleep on the streets tonight.
Even if he ultimately triumphs in court, Stalvey isn’t giving up. “I’m not going to stop fighting for other kids,” he said.