WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — How should your child learn, traditionally or virtually? It's a debate that's been brewing for months.
But for parents of LGBTQ youth, it's even more challenging. School isn't always a safe space, and virtual learning means more isolation. And there are numbers to prove it.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Back to School
Michael Kohnen,14, has the first day jitters.
"I really am restless. I can't even sleep," said Kohnen. "The environment, the people, I'm ready to get back to school."
They're good jitters. He's preparing for a new school, but it always hasn't been like this.
"Two years ago, I started to present myself the way I wanted to. I was just being myself, but being in a seventh-grade public school wasn't a good mix for me," Kohnen said. "I was coming into my identity, and kids weren't being understanding of it. They didn't get it. They lashed out and were mean to me."
Kohnen, a transgender teen, said the verbal bullying was so intense to the point he left. And he's not alone.
A Human Rights Campaign youth report shows less than a quarter of trans and gender-expansive youth can be themselves at school.
They're also twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped because of their actual or perceived identities than their cisgender LGBTQ peers. And only 16 percent of transgender and gender-expansive youth always feel safe at school.
"The reason most kids come to our center in the first place is they got bullied out of public school," said Amanda Canete, director of the Compass Youth Program.
Virtual learning amid COVID-19 could compound it, especially if they are in a home with unaccepting family members.
"It's a perfect storm for a lot of mental health and instability really," said Julie Seaver, executive director of the Compass Community Center.
Over the summer, Compass upgraded its internet and bought more computers to reach more youth who feel on edge to provide one-on-one and group telehealth therapy with licensed professionals. There are also virtual youth groups occurring various times a week.
"You need activism to move the needle," said Canete.
Compass is proving to be a more important safe space, virtually, amid the pandemic.
"I'm ready for a new school and a new start," Kohnen said.
Compass provides social support services to youth and their families as young as three. Click here to learn more.