He was outed by accident at 14, and has since had to deal with his biological mother’s abuse. The abuse is not only mental/emotional, but also physical.
“BEFORE I CAME OUT AS TRANS, I IDENTIFIED AS LESBIAN, SO MY MOTHER WAS ONLY VERBALLY/MENTALLY ABUSIVE.” HE STATED IN AN EMAIL INTERVIEW. “THE ABUSE WAS ALWAYS BECAUSE OF MY LGBT STATUS.”
Now 16, Ryan shares his story and his fight for the courts to allow him to be legally adopted by a family he had turned to for help- a family that also has a transgender son, named Kyler. Ryan says the abuse began even before he came out as transgender. “Before I came out as trans, I identified as lesbian, so my mother was only verbally/mentally abusive.” he stated in an email interview. “The abuse was always because of my LGBT status.”
His mother found out about his gender identity by going to his eighth grade graduation, where she saw him wearing a button down shirt, dress pants and a tie, instead of the dress he had left the house wearing. Since then, the abuse became physical, and over time, it became worse.
Photo: Grace Cook
Ryan had befriended Kyler Shelley at their school’s GSA. He soon became close with Kyler and his parents, Nick and Heidi Dennis, none of whom could bear seeing Ryan suffer the abuse he had to go home to. Eventually, it got to the point where the Dennis family bought a camera for him to hide in his house and set it to live stream to Kyler’s computer, in order to capture Ryan’s mother in the act of violence.
“SHE WAS BEATING ON ME EVERY DAY, BECAUSE I CUT MY HAIR FROM SHOULDER LENGTH TO A SHORTER STYLE..”
The camera was bought at the right time. At Ryan’s house, things were escalating quickly. “That week was more intense than normal.” Ryan said of the night the abuse was caught on camera. “She was beating on me every day, because I cut my hair from shoulder length to a shorter style that Monday. The abuse was actually caught Thursday.”
In the video, Ryan’s biological mother could be seen pinning him down on the couch, trying to force him to remove the men’s clothing he was wearing, pulling on his shirt and tie. Several times, Ryan cried out things like, “You’re hurting me!” and “I can’t breathe!”, things that his biological mother blamed on him wearing his “stupid-ass binder”. His biological father, who had come over and initially tried to defuse the situation, walked out during the struggle after his biological mother repeatedly demanded he get scissors to cut off Ryan’s clothing- demands he did not comply with. Ryan’s younger sister was also a witness to the abuse. In his YouTube video detailing that night, with tears in his eyes, Ryan says the image of his sister in tears from seeing the struggle is something he will never forget.
That night, as the abuse began with the camera live streaming to Kyler’s computer, the Dennis family phoned the police. Ryan’s mother was arrested, and was bailed out the next day. Though she was charged with domestic abuse at the time of her arrest, after his mother’s attorney pushed back the court date seven times, the charges were eventually dropped. She is still, to this day, his legal guardian, refuses to relinquish custody, and could order him to be returned back under her roof at any time. Because of this, Nick and Heidi can’t take Ryan to any doctor, and can’t do things like picking him early from school.
Drew Randall, a friend of Ryan’s, shared Ryan’s story initially on Instagram with the hashtag, #riseforryan, in order to get the word out at their school. However, the story, along with the hashtag, went beyond their school and has since gone viral. Many people from all over the country have reached out in different ways to try to help, or at least offer words of support.
“Growing up in a home that never supported me, this has been the most amazing part of my cause. I’ve been able to connect supportive families with trans people who need housing after being kicked out. I’ve been able to talk to people who have been through what I’ve been through.” said Ryan of the growing number of people taking interest in his case. “It’s humbled me and made me a better person.”
“DESPITE THE GROWING INTEREST IN THE STORY, HIS FUTURE REMAINS UP IN THE AIR, AS THE FLORIDA COURTS HAVE FAILED TO REMOVE HIM FROM HIS ABUSIVE BIOLOGICAL MOTHER…”
Despite the growing interest in the story, his future remains up in the air, as the Florida courts have failed to remove him from his abusive biological mother, even with the video evidence presented of the danger of that home, allowing things to get worse. On July 15th, Kyler Shelley, whom has become a brother to Ryan, posted a video to Ryan’s YouTube account, saying he had been baker-acted. This was due to Ryan’s biological mother calling the police and claiming he had told her over the phone that he was hurting himself. Once the police arrived and this claim was proven to be false, the police were planning on taking him back to his biological mother’s house
Ryan phoned his attorney, and was unfortunately overheard saying that he would either be killed by her, or he would kill himself. The police decided to have him baker-acted, placed him in handcuffs and took him to the hospital, where he spent eight days on a female psychiatric unit (according to what he stated in an Instagram post following his release.)
For now, Ryan cannot disclose his whereabouts in fear of his biological mother being able to find him again. While the story has gained attention, it’s nowhere near enough. While Ryan’s situation isn’t unusual for transgender teens, it could be the one that sets the chain reaction to make the needed changes happen in this country to prevent things like this from happening again. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender individuals will experience homelessness at some point in their lives. Many LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes after coming out. 20-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and transgender youth make up a large portion of that number. While Ryan is lucky he isn’t on the streets and has people to turn to for shelter, food and love, it doesn’t make up for the fact that he is still very much in danger.
“A LOT OF PEOPLE ASK ME IF I COULD JUST MAKE IT ALL GO AWAY, WOULD I? IF I COULD JUST BE CIS, WOULD I CHOOSE THAT? TRUTH IS, NO.”
Throughout this chaos, Ryan remains strong. “A lot of people ask me if I could just make it all go away, would I? If I could just be cis, would I choose that? Truth is, no. If I were Cis, my bio parents would have loved me and I would be a “normal” 16-year-old boy, yes. But being trans has given me a better understanding of what people go through, mainly the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve gained so many friends and so many good memories. Most of all, I’ve gained a family.”
Ryan also hopes his story will help any other transgender youth in his shoes. His experiences have made him an activist for all transgender youth who are struggling. “Once my case is over and I’m legally adopted, I won’t ever stop fighting for trans youth who are going through what I experienced. I’m always going to fight.”
With Ryan’s resilience and strength, it shows how those in the transgender community will not give up fighting for their right to live as their true selves. But they cannot do it alone. If anyone out there has power to help Ryan in his legal battle, please contact him immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those who don’t have said power, help him find those people by sharing his story. You can also help his legal funds at https://www.gofundme.com/riseforryan. Help be part of the change in the legal system, and fight for the rights of transgender people!