Austin Wallis is 17 years old and in love.
The relationship he and his longtime boyfriend, Nicolay Sysyn share isn't any different from other 21st-century high school relationships. It's sweet, supportive, endearing — and, of course, heavily documented on social media.
The couple have posted a number of photos and videos of themselves together online, and that's as it should be.
First love is an experience worth celebrating.
Which is why his school's response came as such a shock.
He says that his private school asked him to keep his relationship off the Internet, or leave.
In a video released in February, a tearful Wallis recounts the moment when he says his principal called him into his office and told him that he was no longer welcome at the school because of whom he loved, and how he shared that love.
"I think it's ridiculous that in this day and age you can be excluded from your own school for being gay," the teen says, breaking down in front of the camera. Sysyn, a common fixture in his videos, pulls him closer in response.
His description of the strangeness of the situation was particularly poignant...
"When I came out, I knew I was going to have bullies... But I never expected it to be from people who were supposed to protect you from the bullies."
In his video, Wallis explains that he didn't see this coming. He says that he's a good student, and that he'd do anything to change what happened. But he can't change who he is.
It's a heartbreaking situation. Teachers and school administrators are meant to be lifelines for students, to guide them and teach them and keep them safe. School is a second home for many kids, and Wallis was told he couldn't call his his own anymore.
As Human Rights Campaign observed in its groundbreaking 2012 survey, the deck is already stacked against LGBTQ-identified youth, and schools can either be safe havens or sources of further injury. The respondents overwhelmingly said that trouble at school or bullying was one of the greatest difficulties they faced as LGBTQ teens.
And while Wallis luckily has a strong support system in his family and his boyfriend, not all kids do...
We need to make sure our schools are safe, welcoming spaces for all kids. Now, not later.
No one should be forced to leave the friends they love and the classes that excite them because of their sexuality.
"I want to change the world for the better, and I want to change the world in a way that this can't ever happen. Where a student can't feel excluded by his own faculty," Wallis says in the video, Sysyn still at his side.