My heart is broken.
Last month, six young men decided that death was preferable to being gay. Two were only 13. The oldest a mere 19.
I’m hearing a lot of talk about bullying and intolerance. The focus is on their classmates and the institutions to which we entrust our children.
I’m glad. But that is not the whole problem.
The real bullies are not on the playground. They are not yelling the F word, but they have found a thousand other ways to make us hear it by word and deed.
I heard that awful word most every day of my life from sixth grade through college. Prior to sixth grade I was called queer and sissy, but with puberty came that odious word. I was beaten daily at the bus stop and on the bus. I was harassed and tormented in school. I was sexually assaulted by a group of boys in gym class in the eighth grade.
Such was my childhood.
As a grown man, I was once struck in the head in the first class compartment of a Delta Airlines flight into Columbia, South Carolina by a man who aiming that word at me. Last Christmas guests leaving a neighbor’s party shouted that word at me and pelted me with eggs. The F word is a big part of my life.
I’ve survived. I’m old enough that I can embrace the word without serious injury. I wave at people who yell it out their car window when passing through my oh-so-gay neighborhood. The scar tissue has grown strong on that wound, opened so often, so very long ago.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I lived through it. I matured enough that I can endure the pain of US Senators, local politicians and the President himself, speaking of me as though I was some sort of subspecies.
I am thankful for the debate. But, rising with the tide of change are the number of cruel and hateful things being said in the press by people who only know to hate me because I am gay. Every hurtful thing they say about gay people, they say about me. That’s how it feels.
When Prop H8 passed in my home state, it was hard for me to go out of the house. Which of the people at the grocery store hated me so much that they thought this of me? More than half of the people at the movie theatre thought that I was not entitled to the same rights they would grant a convicted murderer. I will never feel safe in a Christian Church.
I have learned to live with never feeling safe or free. I have endured never being young and in love. I have come to accept that, as bad as this is, it is better than it was just a few years before I was old enough to understand who I was.
I have learned to find joy and take pride in this half-life that is all I am offered.
Six young men didn’t make it, last month. Six children were exposed to the constant, casual bigotry of folks like Senator McCain and the tacit prejudice implicit in the Obama administration’s practiced inaction. Six lives were ended before they’d begun when those boys were unable to see hope for a life worth living. There is no difference between bullying and the hateful rhetoric that has risen in direct proportion to the tiny advances in civil rights for gay people. Those media-amplified taunts are crushing to children. They’re young but they know the code. It’s all the F word.
Every time the President takes cover behind political expediency, I hear the F word being screamed. There is no difference between overt and subtle bigotry. Either you are for equal rights for all Americans, or you’re not. We’re not just whining, we can tell the difference. So can the children.
Asher Brown, from Texas, shot himself, he was only 13 years old. Seth Walsh from California, also 13, hanged himself. Billy Lucas a 15 year old High School Student from Indiana, also hanged himself. Justin Aaberg, a 15 year old from Minnesota thought that hanging himself was his only solution. Raymond Chase, a college student in Providence, Rhode Island hanged himself at 19. And the hideous case of Tyler Clemente 18, a promising student at Rutgers tormented to death by those given permission by the overt hatred of lunatics like Tony Perkins of American Family Research and those hiding their evil behind Christianity and political self-righteousness. And that’s just September. And it’s probably not everybody.
The children are listening.
All of them. Not just the straight ones. The gay ones can hear us, too. Our gay children are being plunged into despair in this growing, anti-gay atmosphere. But we are also educating a new generation of bigots. Nobody is born hating people for the color of their skin, or their faith or the politics they practice, or who they love. You have to learn to be a bigot.
Being a gay kid is especially hard when you are young. You don’t go home to a gay family or a gay neighborhood or a gay church. You are more likely to go home to an anti-gay environment than a gay one. It feels as though you are the only one. The information all around is that who you are, down deep where no one can see, is the worst thing you can be. You believe that you must keep it secret at all costs. If you can get beaten just for being suspected of this “awful thing” how fearful would it be to tell the truth about yourself? What if you really are the F word?
I would beg if I thought it would make any difference. I would give up the fight if I thought it would help.
All I can do is what saved me. I can live a life that offers hope to those children being beaten at the bus stop. I can use the talents and abilities that I have to try to get word to those who I’ve never met that there is hope. I can try to be the change I hope to see in the world. I can appeal to those on both side who would use the issue of rights for gay American as a political ploy to activate the bigot vote — consider the cost to the only truly precious and irreplaceable resource that this country produces – our children.
We’re six short.