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  • Writer's pictureTori Leto

Choosing Inclusion Over Exclusion

"I would rather be excluded for who I include, than included for who I exclude."

In high school, I was a part of the band, a group known for accepting everyone, the ‘odd balls.’ However, acceptance wasn’t always extended to me. Despite the band's inclusive reputation, I found myself repeatedly turned away from various "band-wide" and "brass-wide" parties. The exclusion wasn’t just from my peers; it was often instigated by parents.

One vivid memory stands out. During my sophomore year, I arrived at a Brass Party, excited to celebrate the beginning of the marching band season. I brought chips, dip, and soda, ready to join the fun. But when I walked in with my boyfriend, we were met with a cold reception. The host’s mother bluntly told us we were not welcome in her home. Even though it was a band party, she had the final say. We offered to leave the snacks, as they would be of no use to us. We entered the party briefly, faced silent stares, set down our snacks, and left in tears.

There were many rumors about why I was excluded. One was that I was rumored to be a “slut” and would sleep with a band member if let in (despite being a virgin). Another theory was related to a past breakup between the drum major and her boyfriend, who had shown interest in me. The drum major’s mother and the host's mother, who were close friends, publicly labeled me as “Whorey Tori” (again, I was a virgin). I was 15 years old.

The band program and school could do nothing to address this. I found myself alone, struggling to make friends, as others feared the repercussions of associating with me. However, one brave person befriended me and, as a result, faced ostracization and criticism.

No child deserves such treatment, especially at the hands of adults. This painful experience cemented my belief: "I would rather be excluded for who I include, than included for who I exclude." It's crucial that we provide everyone—regardless of sexuality, religion, gender, or past—with the opportunity to be included and succeed.

Although my exclusion wasn't based on my sexuality at the time, I was constantly fearful of further exclusion and ridicule for any other potentially "unapproved" actions or characteristics. I often wonder how different both my life and the lives of my peers would have been if we hadn't been so afraid of seeking acceptance. Now, as an adult, I see many of my former bandmates, who were also closeted back then, living happily and authentically. (Which makes me very proud

and happy for them).

Happy Pride Month 2024

It's a harsh reality that LGBTQIA+ youth face disproportionately high levels of mental health issues, homelessness, and other adversities, leading to higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, and life-threatening experiences. As a leader and an adult, I strive to treat every child with the tenderness and compassion I wish 15-year-old Tori had received. I survived my suicide attempts, but many others do not.

Consider these sobering statistics:

  • Approximately 10 youth suicides occur for every 100,000 youth annually.

  • Every 2 hours and 11 minutes, a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.

  • For every completed youth suicide, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made.

  • Firearms account for 49% of all completed youth suicides.

These figures underscore the urgent need for inclusion, compassion, and understanding. By choosing to include others, we can help create a safer, more supportive world for everyone.

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