Derek Shaye Advocates Orlando Youth Empowerment Summit

Derek Shaye performs on stage in CFC Arts’ production of “Bye Bye Birdie” this past summer. (Photo courtesy of Derek Shaye)

(WM) Six years ago, Derek Shaye ran away from home. After years of struggles — including homelessness and trafficking — Shaye found help with the Central Florida LGBTQ youth organization Zebra Coalition. Now, 23-year-old Shaye is ready to tell his story.

Shaye grew up in Washington with a very religious family. He referred to his home as “unstable and abusive,” especially as an LGBTQ person.

At the age of 17, Shaye found out he had been adopted. He had been found on the side of a road as a baby. For Shaye, this was the final straw prompting him to run away.

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Shaye spent years trying to figure out where to go. Along the way, he became a victim of human trafficking. After getting out of that situation, he decided to come to Orlando.

“I decided I wanted to go to Disney because I thought I could live there,” Shaye says. “Even as I say it, I feel like a child, but it was the only thing that made me happy, so I worked my way down here.”

After sleeping outside of Disney Springs for a week, Shaye knew he needed to figure out another plan of action. Desperate, he found his way to a Best Buy where he used one of the store’s display computers to look up maps and other resources in the area.

He found Homeless Services, who eventually connected him to Zebra Coalition which — as Shaye would find out — is dedicated to assisting LGBTQ youth with issues such as homelessness, bullying, abuse and isolation. Zebra Coalition helped him find housing and he’s been with them ever since.

“The first two years I’ve been here I’ve sworn off ever sharing this, ever admitting this, ever doing anything with it because I didn’t want people to have these assumptions of me,” Shaye says. “I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me to the point where they just can’t see past this ‘broken man.’”

Zebra Coalition also connected Shaye to Central Florida Community Arts (CFC Arts), a community theater program that he has since been heavily involved with both as a volunteer and a performer.

His first performance with CFC Arts was in a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” this past summer, where he played Harvey Johnson. Shaye says through that production, he was able to interact with many people, but felt like the interactions didn’t turn out well because he was holding back a part of himself. So, when Zebra Coalition asked him to be part of a video for Full Sail University about homeless LGBTQ youth, he said yes despite all his instincts saying no.

“I think it’s important to remind people that are still facing discrimination and persecution because of the situations that they’re in that it doesn’t mean that they’re alone in the world,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that they have to face everything alone.”

Though Shaye says he is still not 100% comfortable with sharing his story, he is determined to do so, all while still working on other projects in his life.

Still contributing his time to CFC Arts, Shaye also has a mind for business. He is starting his own social media management company called Harvey Johnson Social Media, named after his “Bye Bye Birdie” character.

“It shows kind of what my brand is, being a true individual in every platform – not being afraid to be your authentic self,” Shaye says.

One of the biggest obstacles in starting a business, and in his life in general, is the fact that he does not have identification. His lack of ID bars him from getting an apartment, job, bank account and more.

Shaye says although many agencies – such as IDignity, the FBI and Homeland Security – and politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, as well as four legal advisers have all attempted to help him, none have been able to yet.

“It’s funny how people take something like that for granted,” Shaye says. “Pretty much anything a normal person would want to do to further their life, I can’t do. And every time I go outside, not even having to deal with an identification thing, I still feel like I’m this invisible thing – this living ghost who just walks around not knowing what the hell to do.”

Shaye is also on the Zebra Coalition’s Youth Council, which goes to events and outreach opportunities to talk about their projects. Through the Youth Council, he will be attending the Orlando Youth Empowerment Summit this Saturday. This will be his second year at the summit.

While Shaye says he will most likely not be telling his story at the summit, he will be introducing other young LGBTQ speakers. He says that one of the most important aspects of the summit is that LGBTQ youth are connected to people that really care about them and stories they can relate to.

“The information that’s available and the stories that are told are incredibly powerful,” Shaye says. “And it’s important to hear even if the person that’s telling it may not feel great about telling it, but knows that it’s important to say it out loud. It was one of the things I thought about when I decided to share my story.”

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