Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Do About It
"Enough is enough."
That was one of my friend's comments on facebook this past week, in response to the recent bout of teen suicides being reported in the media. These specific suicides were the result of teens being bullied because of gay, queer, or transgendered identity, whether actual or perceived.
It always breaks my heart to surmise that each reported incident we hear about represents dozens, maybe even hundreds of unknown and unacknowledged similar incidents across the nation and in the world, for any issue of concern.
"This is terrible."
"We must do something about it!"
These are the heartfelt if typical responses people will usually give before doing . . . nothing about it. But what can we do about it? There must be more specific action that can be taken beyond posting a link to the Trevor Project on your blog or facebook status update.
More specifically, what can I do about it?
Fortunately, I am constantly surrounded by Role Model friends. I need only to look beyond my fingertips on the keyboard to learn from the examples around me.
Noel Alumit wrote a loving, eloquent letter to his 17-year-old self for Gay.com. He assures his Past Self from a quarter-of-a-century ago that he will not forever remain the lonely and sad young man he feels he is, but grow into actually celebrating his sexuality with dance - and laughing and loving and singing - and surrounded by friends.
My friend, Michael, is a teacher at a middle school. He has had a facebook photo of himself and his partner passed around electronically by his students. In the photo, Michael and his partner are kissing. The principal told him that they are trying to confiscate all cell phones.
Michael's response is to ask the principal if he can do an anti-bullying presentation for the students, and to use his own situation as an example of what is happening in every state, every city.
He says these kids are lucky that he's the one they chose to pick on.
Michael does not live in California anymore. I still do, in the greater Los Angeles area. There is so much that I take for granted, being able to be out at work, having so many fabulous, openly-gay friends, and also having significant acceptance from Christian friends who are willing to agree to disagree and still remain friends.
I live a happy life practically free of discrimination, well, at least free of the outwardly blatant kind. I always feel that the battles have already been fought for me, that I live a comfortable and safe life because of those who came before me and fought for Gay Rights in the 80's and before.
I don't always have to be too flamboyant or too outrageously gay - only when it's fun for me to be so. I am able to blend in when it is convenient to go unnoticed. I don't have to put myself at risk when I don't want to.
But obviously there is still work to be done if young people are still killing themselves in 2010 because they are being picked on and bullied for being gay - for being queer or sissy or effeminate, or butch! - and/or for just being different.
The fact that gay youth are still at risk in this day and age feels too much like blood on my hands. My friend is right. Enough is enough, and it's time for me to stop hiding in the safety of my risk-free zone.
I know what it feels like, to be picked on or to be made fun of for being perceived as gay (no matter how involved I was in church and in youth group - and no matter how correct my accusers were about my homosexuality). As a young man I had struggled to find a compromise for my sexuality and my Christian beliefs. At the time it felt like there were no answers to be found, and that the only answer, the only way to deal with this tormenting conflict was to end my life.
I had never even come close being seriously suicidal, but simply entertaining thoughts of taking one's life is disturbing enough.
So. What can I do about it? In an attempt to take small, realistic steps, I will stop censoring my behaviour and speech as much as I used to. I will be more verbal and open about my "actively gay lifestyle" among conservative and Christian friends and stop worrying so much about not wanting to ruffle their feathers.
I don't feel the need to be more flamboyant or outrageous in my speech and behaviour. But what I can do is to flick my "church button" on less frequently. I can be a true-to-life example of a Real Gay Person, even at church, so that anyone who is suffering silently over sexual identity issues, no matter what age, does not have to feel so alone if they cross paths with someone like me or Michael or Noel.
And, yes, I will also click on the link to the Trevor Project and find out how to progress to taking bigger steps, and see what opportunities there are to get involved with locally, to learn what else I can do about it.
The photo above is of my friend, Michael, the middle school teacher, and his partner, Garry.