Despite growing up feeling fundamentally out of place, one USF alumnus turned his experiences into a teaching tool to help others.
Raised in Valrico with two siblings, Lucas Wehle always felt out of place. Around age four, he came to the realization that the clothes, hairstyles and standards expected of him seemed contradictory to his nature.
“I was different and definitely felt like a boy, but I didn’t have any terminology for it,” the USF alumnus said.
It wasn’t until his first year at the university that he finally found the term he identified with. “Transgender.”
Born a female, Wehle accepted himself as a male and decided to take the steps in making the physical transition. This process would change the course of his life, his relationships and see him met with serious scrutiny.
In high school, Wehle said he found himself under the most pressure to conform to society’s expectations.
“I really tried to fit myself in that mold,” said Wehle. “I grew my hair out, tried to dress femininely and tried to do all these things I thought I had to do. It was literally the lowest, the most depressed I’d ever been.”
Then college began a new chapter in 2010.
At last, he had found an environment that offered acceptance. In college he was introduced to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In this group, he found other students whom he could relate to and confide in.
“Until I went to college, I didn’t even know ‘trans’ was a thing,” Wehle said. “I had a fit. I had a word to describe how I identified and how I felt.”
He initially “came out” to his girlfriend at the time and his parents would be next.
However, he was raised in a religious household with certain values. Wehle said he tried to stall that conversation, but the pressure was building up.
Six months later, he finally had the discussion with them. The news did not prompt a welcoming response from loved ones.
But the rejection didn’t only come from family; friends and neighbors criticized and rejected him upon hearing the news.
“Just complete and total isolation,” Wehle said. “I got really negative responses — hateful, discriminatory.”
Since then, Wehle said the tension between him and his family has somewhat eased. However, his parents still stand firm that he’s female.
“They don’t call me my name or my pronouns,” he said. “Just respect me to call me who I am and who I’ve been for a long time.”
December 2011 marked another chapter as Wehle began hormone therapy to look the way he feels.
In 2012, he had his name legally changed to “Lucas.” He chooses not to disclose his birth name with anyone, as he’s left that in the past with his former identity.
“He’s a huge mentor to other transgenders,” said Al Molina-Coats, a friend of Wehle’s.
Molina-Coats is a member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Wehle graduated last year with a bachelor’s in physical education.
He is the current president of the organization, which holds public meetings to educate families on the LGBT community.
Additionally, he also is the youth coordinator at the Metro Wellness Center in St. Petersburg. He offers advice to individuals struggling with their sexuality and mentors family members on how to respond to those situations.
In 2015, Florida struck down the HB-583 bill, which proposed banning transgender individuals from entering the restroom of their choice. Wehle was a strong opponent of the bill.
He was a victim of a bathroom assault in college, making the matter all the more personal.
Wehle said he tries to be patient with those who don’t understand his views, but there are times when he gets frustrated. Despite setbacks, he still pursues educating the public.
John Desmond and his wife, Nancy, founded the Tampa chapter of PFLAG in 2011. Through the program, the couple has formed a close bond with Wehle.
That bond allowed them to open their home to Wehle when he was going through issues with his parents last year.
“He’s cutting edge,” Nancy said. “He’s shaped my husband and I — how we think.”
She recalled how Wehle would always come home from work with a positive attitude and liven the atmosphere.
John has viewed Wehle as being “an expert at cultural competency” and regards him as being a knowledgeable source in regards to the LGBT community.
Wehle uses social media as a means of educating the public.
At age 24, he says he is living his dream job, helping others struggling with their own identity crises.
“When you look in the mirror and you’re able to feel like yourself, it’s all going to be worth it,” Wehle said. “Remember there’s a light somewhere, even if you can’t see it.”