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Upper Arlington families talk about LGBTQ, trans acceptance

Erin Bonnell and Jillian Maruskin are both mothers to transgender children. For them, they just want their children to be happy, healthy, safe and alive.

UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio — Happy. Healthy. Safe. Alive. Everything else is just noise.

It’s a family motto adopted by Erin Bonnell.

“Because people shouldn’t be afraid to be who they are,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to walk around on eggshells [for] everybody else just to be able to express themselves.”

Bonnell says for her 10-year-old transgender daughter, Willow, it started early. She says at 5 and 6 years old Willow wanted to wear tutus and makeup.

It was harmless, Bonnell says, until it wasn’t.

“It started becoming tantrums and meltdowns and talking about wanting to harm herself,” she said.

She says Willow would call herself worthless and stupid. She went to counseling where her mother says an idea began to grow organically that Willow identified as a female.

“She’s asked me after appointments ‘Mommy, do you wish I was still a boy’ [and] I’m like I don’t care,” Bonnell said. “Are you happy? You healthy? You safe? You’re alive? You are what you are.”

You are what you are. A simple statement. A very complex understanding.

“I think the reason why that language is even happening…those opinions are happening…is because of the binary that is there that has been in humanity forever,” Jillian Maruskin said.

Maruskin is another mother. Her son’s name is Alex.

“It’s really nice to know that there are people who see me,” Alex said.

Alex, 15, is going to be a sophomore at Upper Arlington High School in the fall. Alex identifies as a transgender male.

“I haven’t been misgendered,” he said. “Nobody’s questioned my name as far as they think, they think ‘Oh, that’s Alex, they might have been born a girl, but they’re Alex’.”

A person. A being who one day would like not to introduce himself as Alex, the transgender, but Alex, the boy who likes dogs and cats.

“We’re not just the kids who like to draw, or the kids who play music, or the kids who play sports,” Alex said. “We’re all humans.”

Just this past weekend, Maruskin and Bonnell, two driving forces behind Rainbow UA, helped to put on a parade. A safe place specifically aimed at teens and young people.

Alex says he knows not every LGBTQ youth walked his same path. In the world there is hate and there is fear, but there is also hope.

Hope to not need to be labeled.

Hope to just be.

“I want her to be able to be proud of who she is,” Bonnell said of her daughter, Willow.

Hope that years from now when Willow and Alex are adults and parents, themselves, they can continue to live in a world where everything else is just noise.

“Happy, healthy, safe and alive,” Bonnell said. “That’s it.”

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