As a former Floridian, I went into the Capital Pride weekend feeling particularly proud of Hillsborough County, Fla. On Wednesday, June 5, the seven-member Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to repeal a ban on recognizing LGBT pride celebrations. That's also a point of pride for Equality Florida.
On the state's ''Treasure Coast,'' however, due east of Tampa, last week also saw Kaitlyn Hunt graduate at Sebastian River High School, where ''You Can't Hide That Shark Pride!'' There was plenty of support for Hunt that couldn't be hidden, either. Many in the community are behind Hunt as she faces felony charges, two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. I've got a particular interest in her case, as I could very easily have ended up in the same situation.
Hunt's girlfriend was a fellow SRHS Shark, both members of the basketball team. And when Hunt turned 18, her girlfriend merely 14, the girlfriend's mother had Hunt arrested. Having rejected a plea deal that would've kept her off the registry of sex offenders but left her with a felony conviction, Hunt faces a July court date.
I would've taken the plea deal, but that may simply mean Hunt's more courageous than I am.
I met Mark outside Clearwater Mall. I was 17. He was 15. We were each with groups of kids waiting to get into a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We crossed the county line to get there. Compared to where we lived, in Pasco County, Clearwater, Fla., was cosmopolitan. Mark went to Hudson High School and I went to Ridgewood. It was happenstance that we even met, but he pegged me for gay right away. He wasn't brazen, but despite being younger he had a more impressive track record. Thanks to a bumbling experience with a girl in a Days Inn bathroom, I wasn't a complete virgin. Mark, on the other hand, seemed to be having fairly regular sex with his girlfriend, as well as the occasional adult man. Maybe that's why it seemed appropriate for him to top.
Still, 18 was rapidly approaching. My mother's fear was always that I would get a girl pregnant and my life would be derailed. My fear was that I would cross the magical line to adulthood and, as a result, become a criminal. While I didn't know what law might be used against us in 1987, I was confident that Pasco County public opinion would not look kindly on an 18-year-old ''man'' having relations with a 15-year-old ''boy.'' Aside from a bit of heavy petting while I was home from college for a weekend, I ended the relationship.
I was luckier than Hunt. Mark's mother, who would listen in on his phone calls with me, had her hands full once Mark's girlfriend got pregnant. I also heard some small-town gossip that his dad came out as gay not long after. Go, Dad! So I was in the clear.
Not so for Hunt. In her school of about 1,900 students, she found a girlfriend. Granted, there was an age difference, but the dating options available to these two students were far slimmer than for their heterosexual peers. Why the parents of Hunt's unnamed girlfriend didn't simply demand their daughter stop seeing Hunt makes no sense to me. At 14, your liberties can be curtailed with a simple phrase: ''You're grounded.'' Instead, there are prosecutors and courts and media – and the possibility of very dire, adult consequences for a girl barely a week out of high school.
Had I turned 18 during the school year rather than a month after, or if Mark's mother had been able to better focus her wrath, maybe today I'd be living with the brand of convicted felon and sexual predator. I didn't deserve that. Neither does Hunt.
[NOTE: According to the police affidavit, Hunt was 18 throughout her senior year and began dating the other student when she was that age. My opinion that Hunt should not be facing felony charges, however, remains. -W.O., June 14.]
Will O'Bryan is Metro Weekly's managing editor. Email him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com or follow him on Twitter @wobryan.