Jeremy Jacobs, 17, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, looks at a makeshift memorial, after walking out of school and making his way to Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., on March 14. Numerous March for Our Lives events, sparked by the Parkland shooting, will be held Saturday, March 24, to call for gun control reform, including events in Dallas and Fort Worth. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)
Openly-gay Frisco teen explains why she is helping organize March for Our Lives, other gun law reform efforts
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Sophie Conde was in 6th grade in December 2012 when a 20-year-old man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., and gunned down 20 children and six adult faculty and staff members. She remembers that day vividly.
“I remember sitting in front of the TV, being scared out of my mind, afraid that it would happen at my school,” Conde said this week. “That was more than five years ago, and things like that have been happening consistently ever since. And then last month, it happened again.”
Conde, a 17-year-old junior at Centennial High School in Frisco, said that she likes to dress up for all the holidays, and Valentine’s Day this year was no exception.
“I was sitting there in class wearing my little “heart” headband, with glitter on my face,” she said. “I have live news updates on my phone and all of a sudden I started seeing these headlines popping up. I was like, wait, what?”
When she got home, she sat down to read the news about the shooting that day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “When I saw that 17 people were killed, I was just shocked,” Conde said. “It was just supposed to be another normal school day. People weren’t supposed to die.
“I am the same age as those kids who were killed that day. It’s so …,” she hesitated, “so disheartening. Parkland was voted a safest community, and it happened there. Who’s to say it can’t happen in my community, at my school?”
The next day, Conde said, the Parkland shooting was “all anybody at my school could talk about. We had been scheduled to have a routine safety drill that day, but the principal chose not to do it. He said that given what had just happened in Parkland, he didn’t want to raise any fears.”
But, she added, “lockdown” drills, where students and faculty practice what to do in the event of an “active shooter” situation at the school, are “regularly practiced” at her school.
“The principal will come on the loudspeaker and say, ‘We’re going into lockdown.’ We turn off the lights and lock the door, then we all get into the corner of the room where someone standing at the door looking in couldn’t see us. We huddle up, and we have to be dead silent. And we wait.
“Like sitting ducks.”
Conde said that over the years there have been a few incidences when the lockdown wasn’t just a drill. Once, when she was in middle school, someone who lived near the school “was shooting a BB gun at a squirrel in his yard at lunchtime, and they didn’t know what was going on so we went into lockdown. People were crying and afraid because we didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know whether someone was in our school with a gun,” she said.
And this year, a week after the Parkland shooting, “a kid threatened to bring a gun to school. He didn’t; it was just a threat. But at the time, you don’t know what’s actually happening,” she said. “I wasn’t at that campus when it happened.
“I was headed to the [Career and Technical Education Center], and I started getting all these texts from my friends who were at the school. At that point, nobody knew what was happening. Nobody knew it was just a threat and there wasn’t actually a gun. It was really scary,” she said.
But Conde hadn’t waited for there to be a threat at her school. She, like the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had already begun to fight back.
“It was pretty instantaneously [after the Parkland shooting] that I decided I had to do something to get involved,” Conde said. “I immediately made a list of all the Texas representatives I knew of and started writing to them. I emailed everyone I possibly could. I started a Twitter page Remind 101 to send people notifications about what was happening, what was being planned.”
She also started a Facebook page for Frisco March for Our Lives. She wasn’t trying to organize a march in Frisco, but instead to “get as many students as possible from my school district to come together in a large number and go to the March in Dallas.” She said almost as soon as she started the Facebook page, organizers for the March for Our Lives set in Dallas on March 24 contacted her, asking her to join their efforts. She was happy to oblige. Conde said that she shares the goals of the March when it comes to demanding stricter regulations on buying guns. She isn’t asking that all guns be banned, she said, just that some “common sense” regulations be put in place that will help keep those guns out of the wrong hands.
“We want universal background checks before you can buy a gun, and a rolling database that’s available to [all law enforcement],” she said. “We want them to ban bump stocks. It’s absolutely absurd that something like that is available for people to buy, anyway. We want to see all the assault-type weapons banned, and high-capacity magazines regulated.”
Conde said that she finds the prospect of arming teachers to be “an absolutely terrifying idea. And most of the teachers, in my community at least, are absolutely not OK with that idea. They don’t want to have to shoot a child, even one with a gun. Teachers have made a commitment to protect us, not to shoot us.
“And some teachers have their own issues, too,” she added. “You just never know when someone might snap.”
Conde also said that while it would be great if students would stop bullying each other, that’s not likely to happen. And, she added, being bullied doesn’t necessarily make someone a murderer. She knows that first-hand.
“I was bullied severely in middle school,” Conde said, noting that while she came out last year as a lesbian, in middle school, she “dated just about every boy in my middle school. I guess I thought if I just dated the right boy, I wouldn’t be gay,” she said. For some reason, she continued, dating different boys made her a target.
“Everybody was doing it,” she said, meaning dating different people. “I don’t know why they decided to target me. But they did. I had people telling me, ‘Just kill yourself already. Nobody wants you here anymore.’ Things like that. I had to be removed from some classes because of it. I had to have a special schedule.”
Conde said her parents did their best to address the situation, as did the school’s administration. Still, she said, “nothing really changed until I got to high school. I mean, kids are going to talk about other kids. They are going to be mean. Middle school is just an evil time.”
Conde encouraged anyone being bullied to find their own group of people to offer love and support and a safe space to be. For her, that came in the form of her church community. “I got really involved in my church, Preston Trail Community Church, and it saved my life. That community of people is just so amazing. It really made a difference.”
She also said that no matter how bad the bullying got, it never occurred to her to retaliate with violence. “I just listened to my mom, who always preached that you have to kill them with kindness. ‘Living well is the best revenge;’ that’s what she always says,” Conde noted.
And she doesn’t think the idea that school shootings could be avoided if kids weren’t bullied is a reasonable solution.
“The truth is,” she said, “it’s just not realistic that everyone is going to be super perfectly nice to everyone else, and that you can prevent mass shootings and mental illness because you are supper nice to everyone. Yes, mental health is a big part of the issue. But it’s bigger than that. They shouldn’t have access to guns.”
While it’s often the openly LGBT kids that find themselves targeted by bullies, for Conde, coming out helped quell the attacks. “I’m openly gay at school. Everybody knows,” she said. “At first, some people were like, ‘What? No way she’s gay!
She dated all those boys!’ But now, it’s OK. At my school, we have a ton of kids in all colors of the rainbow, and our [Gay-Straight Alliance] is super active.”
At first, when she began really questioning her sexuality, Conde said, “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no! I have to marry a boy.
I have to have children.’ It’s like that’s what’s expected of you. But I changed my expectations for my life. You don’t have to be what everyone else wants you to be. Just be yourself.”
Conde said she is lucky to have a loving, supportive and “super liberal” family. “When I came out last year, my little sister [now 14] was crying because she was so excited. She said, ‘Now I get to go to Pride with you!’ My parents were great. My mom told me, ‘Everybody’s got a little bit of gay in them.’”
For now, Conde said, she’s going to focus on finishing high school and finding a way to pay for college. She wants to study history and political science and eventually work for a nonprofit organization advocating for human rights — “LGBT rights, minority rights, gun law reform, whatever is needed at the time,” she said.
She also already works as a freelance makeup artist, she said, and “I’d love to be able to keep doing that as a side job.”
Some people have criticized the student activists that have risen up in the wake of the Parkland shooting, targeting the young leaders of the movement with insults, lies and hate, insisting they are only children who don’t know what they’re talking about. Conde, and those like her are proof those critics are wrong.
And while she may be only 17 now, Conde pointed out that she will turn 18 in early October — just in time to vote in the November general election. She plans to make her vote count.
March for Our Lives Dallas
March for Our Lives Dallas is set for Saturday, March 24, from noon-3 p.m. at Dallas City Hall. Participants will start at City Hall for “a quick, half-mile march around and then back” for a rally on the steps at City Hall, according to Sophie Conde, the Frisco teen who is one of the organizers.
“About six people” are scheduled to speak she said, and there will be voter registration booths and March for Our Lives t-shirts for sale. Proceeds from t-shirt sales and other donations will be used to fund future events, including a rally on May 5, the day the National Rifle Association convention begins in Dallas.
Conde said that parents and other adult allies who want to participate are asked to wear red and to meet at City Hall at 11:30 a.m. that day. “We will have a free lunch for them, and there will be training so that they can then line the route and help protect us as we march.”
Conde said organizers have worked closely with Dallas police to make sure they have all the necessary permits and to make sure that the event is “super secure and safe.” She also said that the event has been organized completely by high school and college-aged students from public and private institutions around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and that claimsthe students are being manipulated by outside, left-wing agitators “are kind of ridiculous. People who say that have no idea what’s going on.”
Anyone looking for more information or interested in volunteering can visit StudentsMarch.org and “keep up with everything that is going on by following that website and all our social media accounts.”
— Tammye Nash