Tony Shamro has had many challenges in his 21 years. Some were familiar and common, like frequent family moves and parents who divorced when he was 4. Others were of a different magnitude: a cleft lip and palate from birth, requiring 13 jaw and facial surgeries, and years of bullying in school because of the way he looked and spoke. And, from the time he was 6, knowing that he was gay. Through it all, his optimistic, resilient personality kept him going. After he graduated from high school—where he started a club to educate others about people with cleft palates—he took theater courses at Seminole State College. But in the last year, a relative he was living with became angry when he reached out to others for support, and threw him out.
Fortunately for Shamro, and other Central Florida young people who have been bullied or made homeless because of their sexual orientation, there is a safety net—and a newly refurbished one at that. Since last December, the Zebra Coalition House at 911 N. Mills Ave. has provided an afternoon drop-in center, mental health and drug counseling, educational and employment support, and a 24-hour crisis hotline (1-877-90ZEBRA/1-877-909-3272). Most critically, it provides six beds off-site for short-term housing, and referrals for others who need a place to stay.
Article written by Mark I. Pinsky and appeared in the November 2013 issue of Orlando Magazine