Mandi Hawke Raises Awareness for LGBT Youth with Her Life Story
Mandi Hawke was in the fifth grade writing "I love Stephen" in her notes, only to casually drop them off her desk for her classmates to find.
"He was the one person in the classroom that every girl liked," she remembers. "I thought it was a safe name to write." In a small private school classroom of about 24 kids, playground crushes grew and Hawke was suddenly accused of not dating anyone.
It wasn’t until her freshman year of high school that Hawke came out to her friends and family, only to be told it was a phase and a trend. But she didn’t know that then.
"I knew I was just being silly. Then I would get teased for liking him," she says, "But I was okay with it. It was constant teasing and bullying."
Years ago, she was a teenager fighting her true feelings to the point of having suicide thoughts. Today, Hawke is an event programmer at SunServe, an LGBT support agency in Broward, and author of Proud: EmPOWERment for LGBTQ Youth. She spends her days talking to kids and young adults, ages 13-24, who are going through the same things she did.
She shares her stories of being in a straight marriage for six years and turning to the arts for an escape from bullying and shame from her religious school.
"I’m a huge believer in ’everything happens for a reason,’" her aunt Carrie Tappan told SFGN. "I feel like she would not be in the position that she’s in and moving forward in her life if she didn’t go through that."
’You know you’re gay, right?’
She was never invited to birthday parties.
One year Hawke remembers having two friends spend the night and staying up until 4 a.m. playing Tetris on Nintendo.
"It was always about wanting to make sure people would show up," Hawke’s aunt said. "It was hard to watch her go through that."
Amanda, as her mother calls her, went to a Lutheran private school until the 8th grade. "What I was taught is being gay is something you wouldn’t want to be," Hawke said. "I wouldn’t tell my dad when I was living with him, no way."
That’s something she tries to help high school students with when she speaks to local Gay Straight Alliances. She said she identifies as pansexual to let kids know they don’t have to be one thing or another.
When her parents split up, living with her dad in Florida wasn’t as easy as going to public high school there. She finally blended in, turned to painting, worked backstage theater and found her support circle.
"I met some amazing people that really pulled me out of the closet," she said. "They were like, ’You know you’re gay, right?’"
Still she bounced between schools in Florida and Texas four times before she graduated. And while her mother was more accepting, kids at school weren’t.
"In Texas, the first thing I heard coming off the school bus in high school was ’that’s so gay,’" Hawke said.
On her first day, her mother remembers her wearing a Scottish kilt with safety pins down the sides, a purple bow in her hair with her little sister’s plastic tiara. Hawke finished up the outfit with ripped fishnets, green Doc Martens and black makeup - lots of black makeup.
"And apparently she made a lot of friends," her mother said.
Hawke made friends with whom her aunt Tappan calls the early stages of Goths and outcasts, but to Hawke they were just other kids who were misunderstood. Although her family acted supportive after she came out, they still thought it was a fad based on her circle of friends.
"I think in her high school years it was at that point where it was trendy to be bi-sexual," Tappan said. "At first we all thought it was a phase."
But it wasn’t a phase for Hawke.
"It was something so difficult for me to get the courage to admit to," she said, "and then the reaction was ’It’s the cool thing to do.’"
You’re going to do something great
Hawke’s first suicidal thought was in the fourth grade.
Her best friend, and the most popular girl in school, stopped talking to her after they took a sex education class filled with gay propaganda.
"I realize now that we probably had crushes on each other," Hawke said.