Gay rights advocate Zachary Mallory of Van Horn High School has been awarded a leadership accolade by the television network Nickelodeon.
Mallory, an 18-year-old senior, is one of this year’s recipients of the HALO (Help And Lead Others) Effect award, an accolade given monthly along with a $5,000 charitable grant. Mallory will give his award to the Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization he said was essential to molding him into the person he has become.
Mallory said the transition from victim to advocate came from letting his inner voice lead.
He remembers being the target of bullying in middle school — “pure hell” as he remembers it — which lasted into high school.
He came out as gay during his sophomore year, thinking it would finally redirect attention away from him.
The result was actually much the opposite, Mallory said, but it helped him realize that he needed to be more selective about whom he listened to.
“I had a lot of backlash,” he said. “People saying, ‘You’re not good enough.’
“I was letting people control my life. I needed to overcome all that.”
As depression became more pervasive and self-harm more attractive, Mallory turned to the Trevor Project and its support phone line. He found an empathy that helped him accept and understand himself.
“They’re the only ones that actually cared enough to talk me out of it,” he said.
After a certain point, Mallory said, being listened to became a strength. He felt he could give to others what had been given to him.
“It was actually, like, giving me a voice,” he said.
Nancy Lewis, spokeswoman for the Independence School District, said Van Horn is a leader in the district’s effort to provide a welcoming environment to all students, through both staff and student council initiatives. The student leadership “regularly evaluates the school climate and provides events to promote tolerance and diversity,” she said.
If bullying at school stems from race, sexual orientation or any other federally protected class, Lewis said, it’s treated the same as bullying that doesn’t.
Today, Mallory is training to become one of the Trevor Project’s phone volunteers, and he hopes to become the listener who saves other teens from themselves.
“It’s time for me to give back,” he said. “They changed my whole perspective.”
Mallory is also plugging into inclusion-focused groups like the theater organization PerformOUTKC and LIKEME Lighthouse and hate violence opponents like the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.
Despite his often adversarial experiences as a young, gay person, Mallory said Kansas City overall is an accepting and amicable place for the homosexual community. There are just a few bad elements that make things tough, he added.
Those are the people who are vocal during his public-speaking engagements, the ones eager to offer unsolicited opinions on who he is and how he’ll live his life.
“But others will tell me that I’m leading people, and I’m saving lives,” he said. “Most people are very accepting and very open minded. That’s my key motivation.”
Charlene Daniels, LIKEME Lighthouse director, said stories like Mallory’s, while tough to digest, are what make the path to equality one worth walking.
She described Mallory as an “eloquent, supportive individual” who has became better through the challenges he overcame.
“His experiences made him want to support the equality fight,” she said. “He’s really an amazing young man.”
Looking to his future, Mallory said he’s drawn to a lot of things: emergency room nurse, being the next Harvey Milk or maybe a motivational speaker.
Whatever he does, Mallory said he’ll be sharing his strength with others.
“I want to tell them that it does get better and there are people willing to listen,” he said. “I’m one of those people.”
LIKEME Lighthouse will host a benefit stand-up comedy show headlined by Wanda Sykes at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Folly Theater. Tickets are available through follytheater.org.
A television spot featuring Zachary Mallory is airing on TeenNick throughout October. It can be seen by going to at.nick.com/1rtJ0xb.