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Young Musicians Band Together Against Anti-Gay Bullying

Youth Pride Band.jpg
Credit Brett Hufziger

The stands in front of the teenagers’ chairs hold the same sheet music – the theme to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  But each of the young musicians has a different story to tell about anti-gay bullying.

Like the bi-sexual flutist, who says she’s pretty much been bullied all her life.

And the gay saxophonist, who describes how it “really gets to you inside and sometimes you start believing what people are saying.”

Even the heterosexual clarinetist is not immune.  She feels too many of her classmates use the word “gay” to describe something bad.

The more than two dozen gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual teens assembled here at St. Mark's Episcopal School in Oakland Park are sick of all the name-calling and teasing.  And in the mere act of sitting together and playing music, they're taking a stand against it.

The newly-minted Youth Pride Band is an offshoot of the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, a fixture in the local music scene for nearly 26 years.  The goal of the teenage band is to combat anti-gay bullying.

Eighteen-year-old flutist Christina Dunbar is bisexual and president of the gay-straight alliance at her own school.  During last year's "Day of Silence" in support of victims of anti-gay bullying, there were some kids in her school who just couldn't keep quiet.

"They said, 'Those faggots deserve to die,’” recalls Dunbar.  “Or they said, 'You're a fag.  Or you're a dyke.' "

A number of high-profile campaigns such as "Silence Hurts" and "It Gets Better" are aimed at helping homosexual teens cope with attitudes like that.  But an alarming number of gay and lesbian teenagers nationwide are being bullied to the point of suicide.

"We have so many youth that are in need of hope to know that they have the possibility of a happy, health future in front of them,” says therapist Kris Drumm of SunServe, an agency that serves Broward County's LGBT community. 

"Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds,” says Drumm.  “And we know that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts."

Youth Pride Band clarinetist Natalie Mullen of Hollywood is 17 years old and  heterosexual.  She says at least two of her gay classmates tried to hurt themselves after being taunted on school grounds.

"One of the students at my school was being bullied by a group of kids in school,” says Mullen.  “And he jumped off a two-story building and broke both his legs."

The band’s organizers say they formed the orchestra to bolster the self-esteem of kids who might be targeted.  But, along with a supportive environment, the band also offers the young musicians performance opportunities they can't get anywhere else.

Seventeen-year-old saxophonist Julio Marconi of Fort Lauderdale relishes the chance to play here because his high school band is gone.

"I guess it was a victim of, you know, lack of money,” says Marconi.  “And then junior year rolls around -- no band.  There's no class.  There's no extracurricular anything.”

Private donors have stepped up to fund one-thousand-dollar scholarships the band gives out to three of its most promising musicians.  Along with live concerts, the orchestra plans to use social media and web videos to beam out its message that words DO hurt -- but music heals.

Christina Dunbar looks over the next piece the Youth Pride Band is working on.  It’s the soaring, uplifting crescendo from “ET: The Extraterrestrial.”

"Some of these kids, in the future, might go and write lyrics about what they've experienced in the past,” says Dunbar.

“And then people will be like, 'Hey!  This is a cool jingle!  I like this!'  Kind of like 'Jingle Bells' around Christmastime.  Someone in this band might be the next person to write a 'Jingle Bells' -- except against gay bullying."

Note:  This story originally aired on 91.3 WLRN in February, 2012.  Applications are now being accepted for high school musicians to perform with the 2013 Youth Pride Band on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 at 6 p.m. in the Amaturo Theatre at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.