October 1, 2010

Come Out

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” Harvey Milk

I woke up this morning before the sun and quickly ran through my ritual skimming of various feeds. I know this early morning search is a bit obsessive, but I like to have chunks of thought to mull over as I start my day and make my way to school. I have a sickness you see, I always like to have my mind engaged with something.

This morning unfortunately I was left with a chunk that may have been too big to swallow and I have been dealing with it all day. A friend posted this article as her Facebook Status and the opening sentence has been haunting me all day:
For the third time this month, a kid who was harassed by anti-gay bullies has taken his own life.
Stories like the one above make sense in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia, but it is shameful that they occur in a country that masquerades as the beacon of liberalism and democracy. How can a nation that prides itself on being the most modern, forward thinking model of freedom be so cruel to its own children? I know the answer to that, so don’t waste your breath. America for all its rhetoric is far from being what we liberals hope it to be. We are more like Iran and Saudi Arabia than any of us will admit. I think the majority of America has more in common with the Taliban than one would think. We are a nation of terrified, ignorant, homophobic racist brutes. Lost, misdirected and tangled in self-inflicted webs of ignorance and fear, we lash out at anyone and everyone who is a bit different than us.

But I didn’t want this post to be a tirade against the hatefulness of your average American. Shining light on hate has never done much good. As a teacher, I deal with kids, and since this story is about kids, I want the post to be for kids:

Dear lonely child,

While it may feel like you are absolutely alone and have few choices, please know that there are thousands of people who have fought and are fighting for your freedom as we speak. Do not lose hope. I know it is not moving fast enough, but change is coming. Changing a culture is like moving a mountain, but you cannot give up. You are living in a time when you have more options than any person in our position has ever had. There are people who love you and understand you. There are people who will not only accept you, but love you for who you are. These people may not be your church, your teachers, your friends, or even your family, but we are out here and we are waiting for you to make it out alive. I am not saying you merely need to wait it out, until you are old enough to escape. That would be cruel. But you need to find hope and strength in the knowledge that outside your prison walls, there are armies of people both gay and straight who are working to liberate you and allow you to live in the world with dignity and pride. In the meantime, seek out groups that can help you now. Be brave and have faith in the work of others before you. Have faith in the notion of fairness and justice. Have faith in love and goodness, even when mired in hatred and ignorance. We are all watching this rash of suicides on the news, with shock and sadness, but please do not become another statistic. Stand up and be heard for who you are not who you are expected to be. I know it is easy for me to sit in the comfort of my own home, as an adult and fill you with hot air, but the sadness I feel can only urge me to action, and yours must too. Fill your mind with vapors of freedom and align yourself with every other outcast you can find and take back your life. Most people are weak and looking for people to follow. Be that person. Take back the power from those who have horded for years. There are more of us then them, if we stop hiding in the shadows, and allowing them to fill our live with hate, we will be able to live our lives as they were meant to be lived. We are here and we love you. Never forget that.

The following is a note for the rest of us.

It’s never okay to bully others. Never under any circumstance should you use the timidity of another person to make yourself feel better, gain credibility with a crowd, or consolidate your own power. A bully is the biggest coward the world has ever known. They are small-minded people who do not have the patience or courage to truly understand themselves, so they lash out at everything and everyone that scares them and who is different from them. Bullies are scared of everything so they blindly attack. Nothing shows your insecurity more clearly than mistreating those smaller or weaker than you. When you are scared and confused do not lash out at those who are different than you just to fit. When you see someone being mistreated it is your duty as a human being to stand up for fairness and truth. There should be no fear in justice. Remember the herd will eat you alive if given a chance. So strike out and mark your own ground. You cannot stand by and laugh with your friends when they say this or that is gay as if being gay is a bad thing. Challenge people when they use words like faggot or homo. There is nothing wrong with being gay, just like there is nothing wrong with being black, a girl, Jewish, skinny, fat, whatever label the crowd is attacking this year. It is hard enough finding out who you are without worrying if the person you end up being is accepted or ridiculed. Are you worried you will not have any friends if you don’t join in? Make friends with the bullied and you will never have a closer friend.

Note for teachers:

We must stand up to homophobia where ever and whenever we ever see it. To every teacher who is afraid to stop at the group of boys who are uncomfortably calling each other gay, there is the blood of a dead gay child on your hands. We must speak to kids about homosexuality. There must be proactive efforts to help these kids feel wanted and loved and understood. We must expose homophobia for what it is. It is not a phase, or a case of boys will be boys. It is not harmless or cute. It is hateful and unfair. We cannot stand by and allow children to be terrorized to the point where they are killing themselves. We as adults who know better must stand up and be heard. How long will we allow these cycles of discrimination continue? How many more kids will have to die before we realize that homosexuality is not a choice or a disease but a very normal healthy beautiful part of who we are as human being? To ignore the children who are struggling with the weight of the world’s hate on their own is criminal?

Homosexuals can and are fighting for their rights, but they need the support of the straight community as well. This is not their battle alone. Everyone who believes in equality, fairness, justice and freedom must stand up and be heard. We will not stand by and allow the bullies of the world win!

I hope that you will comment and offer your support for everyone who is afraid to speak out. Please do not turn this post into a venue to spew hateful message of homophobia. I will erase anonymous comments that do so. This is a post about hope and faith in the goodness of human beings to overcome our own ignorance and intolerance.


  1. Some can not speak out, so those of us who can, must, for ourselves, for everyone.

    We are all humans, and all humans have a right to full human rights, to respect, to privacy.

    If we do not do it for all, none really have those rights.

  2. Anonymous10:29 PM

    In a sense are not fighting bullies, nor people motivated by hate. It is fear and ignorance that fuels our enemy, and I don't think righteous anger is any cure for that. What we need is secularity, education, and legislation to protect the brothers and sisters we have been content to ignore so far. Even today, in international schools around the world - at the forefront of education, or so they like to claim - sexual education teachers pointedly avoid talking about sexual orientation. We talk about bullying and why it happens and what we can do to help, but when somebody brings up homophobia the teacher suddenly has to leave.
    The problem is not always the ignorance children; in all my schools we have accepted gay people as anyone else. It is the teachers and parents who we can't confide in, not even casually or accidentally, that swamp our progress, and worse, the parents who try to 'beat it out' of their kids.

    Interesting thing to note is that for us, gay has never really been a taboo word. We use it but.. it's lost its edge, somehow. We would never discriminate against a bastard (born out of wedlock) but we use it as an insult, nor yet ostracize a retard though we throw it at each other like casual paper balls. Maybe what we need is not to ban the words that express hate but to neutralize them, render them inert and meaningless. Seems to me that political correctness just adds weight to the words we are told so scrupulously to avoid.

  3. Anonymous10:32 PM

    *we are not
    (killing off eloquence, typo by typo)

  4. Anonymous3:32 AM

    over the past month, ive been having the a conversation with a friend. the same conversational topic...over and over and over again. he believes that sexual preference is purely a matter of choice, and that we are all born biologically attracted sexually to the opposite sex. yes, i know...total contradiction. on the one hand, he says that being gay is a choice, but being straight is biology.
    ...ive been trying to take the socratic approach with him...trying to get him to question is belief system and see its internal contradictions...and to see how socially constructed it is...and frankly, how offensive it is.
    but nothing works. because, as we know, you can "prove" anything if you begin from a false premise.

    ...what can i do? nothing i say has changed this guy's mind. he sees being gay as preversion and a choice, and therefore, (his words) "fake."


  5. I have been thinking about people like that too and will maybe write on that topic more later, but off the top of my head: Why would someone make a choice that causes them so much pain and ridicule and sometimes leads to suicide.If it is a choice, why would people choose to lead a life that forces them to hide who they are. Why would someone choose a lifestyle that causes them so much discrimination? It doesn't make sense.

    Ask him/her that and get back to me,

  6. Anonymous10:45 PM

    i already have. and he says that people who are
    "choose" to be gay are confused...and society (liberal) has blurred the line regarding what is acceptable...and therefore it is up to conservatives to hold firm on what is and what isnt acceptable...to show everyone that there are some lines that shouldnt be crossed.

    whats so maddening is that he thinks these lines are sacrosanct and immutable, absolute, and biological, and cant seem to grasp my point about all lines being normative, socially constructed.


  7. @az

    As you I am sure you have experienced some people are so entrenched in their own beliefs, nothing will change their minds, which is okay I suppose when their opinions don't affect anyone else.But in cases like the demonization of homosexuality, there is a very aggressive violence permeating our cultures. I think global culture is slowly making a move toward understanding and celebrating homosexual culture.

    Beyond the caricatures we see on TV, I think worldwide homosexuals have made tremendous strides. Maybe not so in places like Iran and the USA, but in Europe, Canada etc....

    Guess what I am tying to say is that it takes time to shift a culture and we have to just keep chipping away. Perhaps time will do more to change your friends mind than logic arguments.

    But if you want to keep at him, maybe you can raise the point that "society (liberal)" is different all over the world, but there is still homosexuality in every culture of the world. There are no kids watching Project Runway for example in say Morocco, but there are still homosexuals there. So although there are a variety of cultures with different norms and expectation, all cultures have shown members who are homosexual. It is wired in our DNA. It is just a part of nature.

    Sorry for rambling hope that helped.

  8. Such an eloquent, beautiful, and wise commentary. I've read rants about the role of fear and ignorance in the tragedies that have unfolded and come away thinking, "what good does that do?" Whether the bullying is borne out of fear, hatred, ignorance or mental illness is inconsequential in the immediacy of this crisis. We can try to demand that people stop teaching hatred, but there's no way to lead that horse to water if it doesn't want to drink. Instead, we need to stand up and say, no matter what your own personal prejudices might be, you DO NOT have the right to take your argument out of the realm of discussion and into the arena of physical intimidation, invasion of privacy, or brute force. It's the duty of teachers, adults, and peers to stand up now and stop this. Your call to teachers is the most rational, practical thought on this matter that I've come across. All of the discussion and debate can take place later. The primary response needs to be one of action. This is not just a philosophical debate, it's a matter of life and death.