It’s been one year since gender creative 11-year-old C.J. Duron attended his first pride parade, which also marks one year since conservative actor and Twitter troll James Woods attacked his family for supporting him.
This year, because sometimes the world is good, Duron, who goes by he/him pronouns, will return to O.C. Pride in Santa Ana, California ― as the youngest grand marshal in Pride Month’s 48-year history.
“It’s sending a message to those haters who came out so strongly after last year’s pride that it doesn’t matter,” Lori Duron, C.J.’s mom, told HuffPost about the the milestone. “We are still right here, supporting our son and loving him no matter what. It’s about him and making sure he’s happy and healthy and sure of who he is and able to be his most authentic self. It’s not about what they think or what they tweet.”
The year has been a tough one for the Duron family. In February, C.J.’s former best friend told him she could no longer be his friend because her family “doesn’t hang out with gay people.” Lori Duron shared the experience in a gut-wrenching essay for HuffPost. “Whatever his future sexuality, that day, homophobia turned my son into devastation personified,” she wrote.
“There has been a lot of crying all together as a family this year,” C.J. Duron told HuffPost. “But not as much crying as when we watch ‘This is Us.’”
There were big wins this year, too. C.J. Duron visited the American Academy of Pediatrics in Washington D.C. to educate them about working with non-binary kids. A letter-writing campaign that he started resulted in the de-segregation of boys and girls in gym classes district-wide, and just this month he received an award for his LGBTQ advocacy work.
It’s an impressive roster of achievements for anyone, let alone an 11-year-old. But C.J. Duron told HuffPost he doesn’t feel like he’s really done anything. “I’m just being myself,” he said.
Lori Duron said that her son is in some ways starting to grasp how his activism has an impact on people around him, and hopes that one day it won’t seem so heroic to just be yourself. “He’s just used to us loving and supporting him, but we know some families aren’t as supportive of their kids,” she said.
C.J. Duron said his solution for those kids would be to open an orphanage “so my family can go and adopt all of them.” Lori Duron agreed, but stressed the need for LGBTQ children to feel safe not just at home, but at school, too.
“A lot of creative kids feel like school isn’t the place for them,” she said. “Right now, C.J. doesn’t want to go to sixth grade, he wanted to look into other options. It’s fine with us, but I wish other parents could see how hurtful this is and how this could change the trajectory of his life. Other parents and school administrators don’t see that we’re working like hell to at least get through elementary school and at least have it be a pleasant experience.”
C.J. Duron says closing out the school year by being celebrated in this way is “such an honor” and is busy picking out the perfect outfit (“Amazon is our friend,” he said). He told HuffPost he loves Pride because of its openness and acceptance. “People can just dress however they want and be however they want and people won’t judge you,” he said. “I also like it because they have glitter.”
Lori told HuffPost they have been prepping in other ways, too.
“He started watching ‘Milk’ the other night, we read a children’s book about Pride a couple of times,” she said. “We do want him to understand that it’s not just all about glitter. We want him to understand the history, and we’re always trying to find those teachable moments.”
C.J. is sure to bring his own sparkle to the parade on June 23.
#TheFutureIsQueer is HuffPost’s month-long celebration of queerness, not just as an identity but as action in the world. Find all of our Pride Month coverage here.