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.


Music said...

Peter, you are awesome!! What I am doing about it? Here's a link to today's front page article in my local paper about MY church and MY minister and MY community of compassionate, progressive-minded people. Oh, and I am the song leader for this march...


Peter Varvel said...

Music, thanks for fighting the Good Fight in Ogden. YOU'RE the one who is awesome!
Thanks for the link. There are several excellent points made, including:
"Novack said she also was afraid that other young people and adults would use Packer's words to be less tolerant of those who are different and that bullying and violence would increase."
March on, sisters and brothers, march on!

CandyO said...

I have known Michael since we were kids and am so glad to see him settled and happy with Garry. I can't stand the thought of anyone thinking of them as anything but top notch individuals. I do hope that your message reaches some as yet "unconverted".
Candace in Oz

thelastnoel said...

Thanks for the mention. Lead the best life you can, so when young queers see you they know what's possible, baby!

Peter Varvel said...

Thanks, CandyO! I'm pleased we have a mutual friend in such an inspiring person as Michael!

Noel, your letter is as important as those new videos for youth with the message that "It Gets Better."
You leading your wonderfully Best Life is proof positive!

Cheryl said...

I was just going to mention the It Gets Better project, but it looks like you're way ahead of me. Now if only I had a video camera and some editing skills....

Brett & Shelly Faucett said...

Dearest Peter,

Wonderful post Peter. I can relate to the feeling of just wanting not to always put up a front to look good for other people. Missionaries do that all the time, because what would their supporters say. Missionaries are not suppose to drink or cuss, why am I supporting them? Christians are often other Christians worst enemy. It is about living your life without apologizing to anyone except God. We are not here to judge each other, God will do that! We are here to love each other. I often struggle with writing about my true feelings on my blog for the fear of dissapointing my supporters. Sometimes people do not want to hear what it is really like. But, on the other hand I think some people can appreciate the honesty whether it is good, bad or ugly. Just keep being Peter!! Shelly and I love you and wouldn't have you any other way!
I have been following a blog of a missionary that seems to be able to put into words what a lot of us (Missionaries I mean) feel without censoring the content. I think you might find it interesting. It is called "Jamie the very worst missionary"
Anyway, keep up the good work. Shelly and I really miss you and think of you often.