SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Magnolia Longworth is 16 and she’s not afraid of anything. No homophobic slurs, no death threats, no judgment of an often insensitive world.
Longworth, a junior at South Kingstown High School, and her friend, Evan Travis, a sophomore, hosted the first PRIDE event in South Kingstown, which will begin with a car parade in Wakefield on Thursday at 3 p.m., followed by a walk from Wakefield Elementary School to Main Street and a short speaking program.
More than 200 people have expressed interest in attending the event, which will feature food vendors, family activities and entertainment. The event is co-sponsored by the Collective, a nonprofit activist organization, and the Wakefield Village Association.
Longworth, who identifies as bisexual, came out in eighth grade. His parents were only support, which perhaps explains his courage today.
“I always thought I was weird, that no one would ever love me,” she said on Wednesday. “My parents said to me, ‘If you’re gay, we love you no matter what.’ They are so proud of me.
At the time, her little brother Henry (now 12) asked her, “So you like girls? and Magnolia said, “Yeah,” and he said, “I like girls too.”
“I remember I had a gay cousin who always voiced his views on gay rights,” she said. “He inspired me. I wanted the world to change and everyone to be what they are.
While Magnolia had unconditional support at home, that wasn’t always the case in the outside world. She was harassed and taunted at school, although she said high school has become more gay friendly in recent years.
She remembers holding a girl’s hand as she walked home and teenagers taunting her and calling her homophobic names.
“I really think we need PRIDE to show the community that we’re here, that you can’t use that against us. We are proud to be gay.
Yet Magnolia was unprepared for the hateful comments posted on a city’s Facebook page while promoting the PRIDE event.
“I was facing death threats from adults,” she said. “They said gays should go to hell and I’m confused about my sexuality. I’m 17 next week and adults are yelling at me. I was afraid to go to Facebook. I was very afraid.”
But she didn’t back down and the page admin took note of the comments.
“I think the only thing I learned from this experience is that I’m not ashamed of who I am,” said Magnolia. “I have a whole community that supports me. There is more love than hate.
Magnolia’s mother, Terri Longworth, said her daughter has been a fighter since she was young.
“She was never shy about doing the right thing, standing up and protecting people,” Longworth said.
In eighth grade, Magnolia received the Gandhi Award from the Center for Non-Violence at the University of Rhode Island. She was honored because she collected a ton of food for the Johnnycake Pantry in South Kingstown.
“I mean Evan played a big part in this event,” Longworth said. “I’m super proud of her. Even through hatred, she never let it bring him down.
Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.