I have, through out my life, had a large number of friends who were (and still are) gay or lesbian. I have loved them as I have any other friend. I guess I am very fortunate. I was raised to see people- not color, not sexuality, not size, not age- just people. To me- no matter what color you are, no matter how old/young you are,no matter what size you are, no matter who you sleep with ( as long as it is consensual)- if you are a good person, you are a good person. The rest just doesn't matter to me.
Let's get to bullying for a minute. Bullies have been around forever- the only thing that has evolved is the manner in which they go about it. When I was a kid- a hundred or so years ago- bullies were much more physical. Shoving people into lockers, wedgies, swirlies, and when it got bad- actually beating the victim up. Bullies existed on and drew strength from physical intimidation and from verbal harrassment. How many of us remember hearing about or even witnessing the "3:00 Showdown" where the bully would tell the victim and anyone else they could- that they were going to "get" them after school? In the years that have gone by- many schools have instituted a zero-tolerance policy on the physical abuse. While I view their zero-tolerance policies with a jaundiced eye (but that is for another post) it has made schools physically safer for the most part. Unfortunately that has not stopped the bully- it has only driven them underground and made them more creative. These days bullies continue with the verbal harrassment and they upped the ante by taking their harrassment online. Have we made things better? Or is the mental and emotional trauma far worse than the "old" days?
A majority of the cases we have seen in the news have been teens who are LGBT. Sharon Stapel with the Huffington Post says:
This week we have been forced to bear witness to the violence that is done to LGBT people and wondered "how could this happen?" The suicides of nine young people who were bullied and taunted about their sexual orientation and gender expression exposed the tragedy and pain that LGBT people live with and die from every day.
In my experience- this harrassment of kids who are- or may not be but for some reason are percieved as being- gay or lesbian is not new at all. Back in the 80's when I was in high school it was fairly common to hear: "He's such a FAG" or "You Homo!" or "That's so GAY". In full disclosure- I used "That's so GAY" as often as anyone else. At the time and even up until very recently I didn't think about how someone who WAS gay would feel about hearing that- I just used it as a descriptor for something that I found stupid. I am sure that many people did the same that I did- and just didn't think about it any more than we do when we say "that's so retarded!" or something to that effect.
Evidently- the harrassment goes even further back. Apparently- my generation didn't invent everything (HA!)
This morning while flipping through my usual lists of news and blogs that I go to each morning I found this message from Tim Gunn on EW's website:
Now I just admire the public personality of Tim Gunn. I find him to be stylish and elegant, kind and wise. He is honest without being cruel. He is a man that I would like to know on a personal basis. That he was so desperate that he attempted suicide as a teenager just makes me incredibly sad.
Having known my friends who happened to be gay, having had many discussions with them about what they went through to get to the point where they accept themselves and the struggle for acceptance in their families and amongst their friends- no one will EVER convince me that being gay is a choice. No one will convince me that enduring the harrassment that they were subject to is a choice. No one will convince me that risking coming out while knowing that they could be ostracized in their own families or communities for being who they are is a choice. And if it is not a choice- then it is a part of how you are born. If it is how you are born doesn't that mean that we are all just one or two genetic marker from being gay?
What I don't understand is why we (as a society) view being gay as any different than being white or black, being fat or thin, being tall or short, or being disabled. Yes- there are sterotypes- but really-there are stereotypes about Blondes (blonde moments anyone?), or tall people (must play basketball, right?); about different races (not even going there); about being thin (must be anorexic!) or fat (must just eat like a pig!); about girls who dress a certain way (SLUT!) or who are athletic (TOMBOY!) - and why do we hang tight to those and all of the other stereotypes? Are we afraid to get to know the person as an individual? Or are we afraid they might see the real us?
So what can we do about all of this? Dan Savage has started the "It Gets Better Project" on Youtube. There is also The Trevor Project aimed at stopping teen suicide. But we can also do something closer to home. We can speak out against bullying within our homes and our communities. We can STOP feeding the stereotypes and start looking at what is in people's hearts rather than what is on the outside. We can think before we speak and remember that we don't know who is listening to what we are saying. Words are so very powerful- and you don't know how your words will affect someone who may just be passing by as you speak them. We can teach our children tolerance and understanding. We can encourage them to be the best person that they can be and teach them to find power in encouraging others rather than in tearing them down. We can stand up to bullying whether it is happening to us or to someone else. All it takes is to say the words "That's not cool." "I don't think that's funny" "I won't listen to this" or "Do you even know this person?"
My challenge to myself is to take a deep breath and think before I speak. My challenge to myself is to remember the power of words and use mine for good. I challenge you to create your own challenge.
I am eternally grateful that I have never been on the receiving end of a true bully and if I ever hurt anyone through my words or actions (and I am sure that I have) I would like to publicly apologise to them here. While I may not know first hand how it feels to be bullied I do know that it is within my power to not tolerate it and to make a difference in the life of someone who has been. If we all work to lift one another up we will give one another strength and in that strength- nothing can tear us down.