Maxx Fenning is the founder and president of PRISM Florida Inc. PRISM is a non-profit organization that provides educational and sexual health resources and information specifically targeted for youth in south Florida. When speaking with Maxx, he discussed how many LGBT youth don’t know who to ask about their particular questions concerning their community. Especially considering that many haven’t come out, or are in the beginning stages of their coming out journey. The vision of PRISM is to provide the much needed resources that can be accessed easily and anonymously online. Resources include information on sexual health like types of STIs, locations of STI testing centers, communication, and contraception. A second resource is material concerning sexual orientation. This section includes history and knowledge surrounding sexual orientation, gender identity, pronouns, tips on coming out and responses to someone coming out an LGBT member. A third resource included on PRISM’s website includes LGBT historical figures, riots, the AIDs crisis, discrimination, and misinformation. A final resource is the history and struggles of QPOCs, or queer people of color. Information includes facts on the American civil rights movement and Juneteenth in relation to homosexuality. PRISM’s impact doesn’t stop within the confines of the internet. Maxx and his colleagues also fight to secure rights locally and against legislation. A recent accomplishment for PRISM is the mobilization for 2,800 petition signatures in Miami-Dade county to support sex education and aid.
Maxx had originally come out as bisexual when he was in middle school, and realized his sophomore year of high school that he was gay. In terms of his coming out he states, “I had a relatively affirming family and they took it fairly well; I was outed by my sister to my mom then outed by my mom to my dad”. On the general topic of coming out, he emphasizes that an individual coming out is varied in terms of timing and respective processes. In his experience, Maxx had no control over how he came out and regrets that he didn’t have the opportunity to take charge over such a pivotal moment in his life. However, Maxx discussed how those who don’t come out should be equally respected. He explained that there is an immense amount of pressure surrounding the LGBT coming out journey and that there are a multitude of well-founded reasons behind not becoming an exposed member of the community. For example, many people are facing the possibility of danger, lack of support, and homelessness. In fact, Maxx states that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. Without certainty of affirmation, the unforeseen outcomes are interminable. He also stated that, “Everytime a celebrity comes out and every time someone makes a Youtube coming out video it’s this pressure I need to get up to or come out online”. However, as we all know, the reactions of the online community as well as anyone outside of our immediate relationships can be particularly cruel when witnessing vulnerability. The notion of coming out publicly is also particularly frightening given the amount of individuals who will make it a point to disagree with or threaten the identity of those in the LGBT community especially on social media like TikTok and Instagram.
Maxx also discussed some of the slightly insensitive or inaccurate comments he would receive upon coming out. For example, when he was bisexual his mother would say that he shoud settle down and marry a girl so he can grandkids. However, he jokingly countered that gay people can start a family. Additionally, Maxx was warned about his public sexuality due to the harassment that can accompany this community. In response to this he says, “I can’t just stop being gay, and if people are going to bully me for being gay that’s on them they need to figure out how to cope with that. I’m going to be gay regardless so there’s nothing they can do to fix that”. LGBT members are often faced with people trying to “fix” them that are ignorant to the fact that while sexual identity can be hidden or malleable, it cannot be changed through maintaining a facade for social acceptance.
Maxx’s examination of Lighthouse’s campaign is that the phrase “Love is Love” means that people shouldn’t be seen as “dangerous, predatory, or harmful just merely for existing just merely for being as they are and loving as they love”. Maxx has experienced the double standards placed on sexual orientation causing people to feel like less than who they are. Therefore, because of his background and the constant backlash the LGBT community faces, Maxx founded and leads PRISM. Some of his future goals include mobilization to combat discriminative legislation, providing transgender healthcare for minors, and activism against conversion therapy. Some of Maxx’s role models in this fight for equality include Will Larkins, Javier Gomez, Zander Moricz, and Jack Petocz. Will Larkins is a 17 year old student activist from Florida both within his high school in Winter Park and against legislators in Florida. Javier Gomez is a 17 year old activist who led a rally against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law which aims to limit LGBT discussion in schools. High schooler Zander Moricz sued his school for censoring his graduation speech mentioning the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. High schooler Jack Petocz organized a walk out at Flagler Palm Coast High School after the bill.
Maxx’s main hope for “Love is Love” and similar campaigns is that the LGBT community is integrated into normalcy. In terms of PRISM, he wants Lighthouse’s LGBT audience and beyond to be able to feel safe and know that PRISM will support and work to secure rights for them.
For instance, while I was scrolling through my Netflix feed in boredom a few weeks back I came across a peculiar title “Untold: Deal with the Devil”, a documentary series on the life and achievements of one Christy Martin- known by her boxing title ‘The Coal Miner’s Daughter’. Not knowing much about the sport, or indeed the players either, I thought it would be an interesting watch. I would not have known that the tale of a closet lesbian and her struggles to be recognized as the best in the business, tackle life-threatening situations, and still manage to come up on top to make a name for women in a sport pre-dominated by men, would take such a gripping hold on me.
The Netflix documentary included interviews and first hand accounts of the events leading to the rise of Christy Martin’s fame and challenges, painting a holistic picture of the boxing champion who changed the game. It lent weight to the argument that not only as a woman, but a closeted one who could not be true to herself when trapped in an abusive relationship that did not give any safety after her husband (and manager) Jim Martin grew resentful of her free spirit. When she bravely stood up for herself and was literally shot for it, it was her guts and will to keep fighting that had her survive to box another day.
The powerful story draws to a close with Martin becoming more true to herself and realizing that she was done hiding, a message that really resonated with someone like me who took so long to come into my own sexuality. Her journey led her to, perhaps a cliche but romantic all the same, end with her rival-turned-partner Lisa Holewyne, whom she actually beat in a match back in 2001! Christy gives an inspirational ending by showing that true strength is the resilience you show when the world is against you (even if you would never want to cross her fists on a bad day).