|Gay me in high school. (With super supportive Jeanie.)|
Having come out when I was in high school 25 years ago, it has been a long time since I have felt much emotional pain over being gay. As the tragedy of all of the recent suicides by gay teens came to light in the media I was angry and upset. But I was also surprised. Surprised that 25 years after my own struggle with isolation and fear–with all the positive baby steps and giant leaps for gay civil rights and gay visibility during that time–the darkness remains for the most vulnerable in our society.
It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. With the very loud voices of hate often drowning out those who are supportive, it really should be no surprise that some LGBT youth feel just as isolated now as I did in 1985.
I hope every parent out there who has a feeling deep in their gut that their child is different–and trust me, most parents know before the really know–I hope those parents stop and think about what they may be conveying to their child. Do your words and attitude make them feel worse then they already do? Does your fear or embarrassment overwhelm you when you think about your own child being “one of them”? So much so that you forget about the fact that you love your child? To you I say “wake up!” Deal with your own issues and don’t make them your child’s issues. Do it before it is too late. Give your gay child a hug, don’t wait to cry over his dead body. My parents struggled just like I did, maybe for different reasons. But I always knew that they loved me.
The parents of the bullies have a responsibility as well. Saying “boys will be boys” isn’t good enough. You don’t care about the loser queer kids? You don’t need to. Think about yourself and your own kid. Do you want your bully of a child to go through his life knowing that he was responsible for someones death? Like it or not, the march for gay rights and inclusion is inexorable. There may be set backs, but I can guarantee that by the time your child is an adult he will be ashamed of his actions or be in the minority. So you too need to think about what you are conveying to your children.
Some have criticized the “It Gets Better” campaign for putting the responsibility onto the shoulders of the gay kid and leaving the bullies alone. Well we don’t have time for the bullies to change. We need to let gay youth know that their lives will get better if they are only around to see it unfold.
As I said, I got over my issues with being gay 25 years ago, but seeing all of these It Gets Better videos has not only reminded me of the pain and isolation I felt back then, but it has also been incredibly life affirming. The gay movement has been many things over the years. There were the brave, righteous days of post-Stonewall gay rights in the 1970s, and the brave, righteous fight against hate and apathy in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s. There has also been the mainstreaming of gay in every day life. From being out at work, to seeing gay faces in popular culture, to the rise of gay couples and their gaybies, to, what seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago, gay marriage.
Out of these terrible tragedies there is a real opportunity for gays and straights alike. Faced with the prospect of having blood on our hands, we all need to stand up do the right thing. Do we stand silent on the side of darkness or do we choose to affirm the value of every child?
This is a watershed moment for straights to get off the fence and pick a side, but it is also a watershed moment for the LGBT community. Many of us have become so comfortable with our own status quo we have forgotten the struggle. And I know I personally have stayed clear of issues related to gay youth. So worried that I might be seen to be “recruiting”. The result was to leave it solely up to supportive straights to take on the responsibility of safeguarding gay kids. The plethora of It Gets Better videos has shown me that we in the LGBT community owe these kids more. We not only need to be advocates but we need to share our stories. And one thing these videos do so amazingly well, is show that we are up to the challenge.
So many of these videos bring tears to my eyes, not just over the sad stories, but over the joys of making it through the struggle. Over the realization of the universality of what we have gone through. And this makes me proud. I think many of us in the gay community have shied away from those in the community who didn’t look like the rest of society. We have discounted diversity and been afraid of the oddballs. With these videos I feel the last vestiges of my own internal homophobia break apart and slip away. The oddballs, the fairies, the freaks are not to be feared. I am them and they are me. If they don’t deserve a place in society, why should I?
Maybe I am projecting my own feelings onto a mythic gay community. But I really feel like these videos show a LGBT community that is no longer afraid of itself. No longer worried about fitting in. No longer confined to the gay pride parade or a gay bar. Showing every gay kid the incredible array of possibilities is powerful. And I hope they all live to see what great things are in store for them.
So here is a selection of my favorite videos. There is something for everyone here. Clergy, opera stars, farmers, and a whole lot more.
And a link to the official It Gets Better website.
What a powerful post. I admire anyone who can stand tall and be who they are regardless of sexual preference, color, weight, you name it. Being different is not a disease.
My son is a student ambassador in junior high. It's sort of like safety patrol but he just sort of listens to kids and notices if someone is in need. It could be a kid who recently lost his father, or a kid who just doesn't fit in. All he does is listen, and if he can get help for the person then he will. I think programs like this are very successful and show that the schools are trying to change the way they do things.
Thank you so much Thomas. I watched these and am moved.
I am sure ,sadly, that we have the same issues here in Australia .
I watch glee with the kids …which the priest mentions..it reaches them..and we adore the gay couple in “modern families” ….television and pop culture to be sure but anything that gives my children a better understanding is fine by me…especially when it triggers open ,honest discussions..
Thomas so very poignant…it breaks my heart any time I see prejudice that can ruin ones life.
Art by Karena
Well said Thomas. I was really interested to read what you said about straight people supporting gay people, as I am one of the “supportive straights” however I have felt that I shouldn't be too vocal about things like gay marriage (still not legal here) and gay rights etc because, what would I know about it? I feel that it would be like giving parenting advice (no children) or discussing the woes of cancer treatment (which I've never had). Really really interesting post. Thanks for sharing :)
Excellent post. What you say about bullying is true for all bullying. parents do need to think about the messages they give their kids on all levels. there is little bullying at my daughters school but then I nenevr hear the mothers talkinga bout wach otehr behind their backs or making smart remarks at otehrs expenses. One of my daughter's little friends says, “Be kind”, if other children get a bit mean. “Be kind” is a pretty good mantra.
I feel very sorry for teens however. Bullying can be horrendous at that age. I hope gay kids can find some hope through this campaign.
Your words are beautiful and eloquent and give much food for thought. We all have a responsibility to make our world a place where people are loved and accepted for who they are, not judged or discriminated against.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hadn't really heard the criticisms of the “It Gets Better” project, but I think your response is exactly right — bullying is not ok, but it's also important to support people who are struggling while also trying to get bullying to stop. I've loved watching all of the project videos. I'm a straight female, but like victory and happiness in so many of them is really moving to me and they have messages applicable to any kid who has felt on the outside.
Ti: Sounds like your son is part of a great program.
Mary: I love the couple on Modern Family too. I think the most important part of that show is how it Cam and Mithchell are presented as just another branch of the family. They deal with gay topics but they are so well integrated into the show.
Karena: The saddest thing is that if one lives through it, it doesn't really ruin your life at all. Makes most of us stronger.
Elise: I think you should be as vocal as you can be. If you follow the It Gets Better link you can take the pledge they have there that shows a really basic simple way of approaching it.
Juxtabook: I can only imagine how much worse it is for teens today with all of the social media that makes it so hard to escape. At least when I was a kid, once I got home I was protected from all of it.
Kathleen: And it really applies to every facet of life. We can all make the world a good place or a bad place.
Kim: Now that you know about it, spread the word so as many kids as possible know about it.
Such a moving post (your words and the links). It makes me want to do something/anything helpful.
Great post (and love the photo!) I have really been moved by the “It Gets Better” videos. Also, not only is it a great message for LGBT teens, but really for almost all teens. Those can be some rough years – I remember.
Well, you have me crying a little bit here, Thomas. As Ti said, a very powerful post. Growing up, we always had gay men around us (a story for another time), and I saw their struggles from a very young age. My love for all my “uncles” and the love they extended back to me informed who I was to become, their identities a bit of my own. And this most recent revelation of intolerance strikes me in a way similar to the way I felt losing some of them to AIDS.
Whereas social media can be brutal in this case, it also helps to lift up as you illustrate with the bits from the It Gets Better campaign.
(Love the photo!)
Thomas, thank you for posting these. So moving and wonderful, so hope-full. Love Harry and Wayne in particular, and “True Colors,” showing all sides of love and affection, from personal to community-wide. I agree with Kim, these will and do mean a lot to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, for whatever reason.
In David Mitchell's novel “Black Swan Green” a teacher leaves a note for a bullied student (beaten up because he stutters) to find. It says in part, you only have to be a teenager for a few years. Then you will have the rest of your life, to live as YOU choose. Hang on…
Very powerful, I enjoyed this post very much…brought some tears to my eyes…Thank you for not being afraid and speaking loudly for many who are too scared to have a voice for the gay community.
I love the quote:
“Everything you dream you can have, but you have to be here..”