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Ten Minutes With a Teen Activist — Kian Tortorello-Allen

Kian Tortorello-Allen is an 18-year-old trans senior at Fox Lane High School who is an LGBTQ and racial equity activist. A Mount Kisco native, he is active with Fox Lane’s Gender Sexuality Race Alliance (GSRA) and on the national level with the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Beyond his activism, Tortorello-Allen is a flute player and an artist. He wants his activism to create safer places for those students who come after him.

How would you describe your four years at Fox Lane?
It’s been a journey—I started out high school in a pretty bad place. School wasn’t very accepting. But I channeled that energy to really help to make my school a better place for LGBTQ students. I think in the four years it really has changed. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve worked on making sure that LGBTQ kids of color are thriving. I didn’t have that when I was a freshman but being able to have that for kids younger than me means the world to me.

Was there a person at school who was really there for you?
I was going to drop out of school but what kept me going was my art, my music, and GSRA. The arts and music departments are amazing. My band teacher, Dr. Paul Tooker, now retired, was the best teacher ever in helping me cope with school and navigate it.

What led you on the road to activism?
A light switch went off when I joined GSRA. I realized there were other kids like me in the school. First I got involved at that level and then I realized I could actually make an impact nationally. I wrote my college essay about how being bullied helped make me figure out who I am today. People say “Bullying builds character.” That’s BS, but without being so harassed at my school I wouldn’t have been pushed to become an activist, and now I’m involved with national level advocacy work. I realized how people were affected and realized this was my life and my identity. Even if I wanted to shut it out, I couldn’t. I’m a better activist for being harassed but I could have done without that.

What are your plans for your college and beyond?
I’m planning on being a double major in flute performance and gender studies because I want to work in both music and a non-profit. Sometimes people forget that as a trans person this will always affect my life, whether or not I speak about it. I would do just about anything to make my voice heard—go to any rally, organize—that’s just who I am. I care so much about it. The intersection of race and trans identities are what mean the most to me.

How can other people be activists?
I think the word activist scares people. I think the most important thing that I can tell people is to listen to stories. You can help people by listening and helping them access what they need in order to succeed.

 

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