As someone who hasn’t been in high school for 15 years, I still remember those horrible years. A mouthy, nerdy outcast, I loathed high school. I survived it remembering that one day it would all be over and I would be far away. But for some teens, they can’t ever imagine another existence other than the torturous hell they’re living. With the 7 tragic queer teen suicides (6 gay teens, 1 lesbian teen) that have occurred recently, it’s a wake-up call that we all need to be more supportive of those in the LGBTQ community.
Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate LGBTQ individuals coming out as well as to support equal rights. As an LGBTQ ally, I hope to support those who declare not only their sexuality but their identity to their friends, families and communities. It’s unbearable to have to hide or feel that I must hide who I am. Imagine if being with someone you love might make you lose your job, your friends or family.
Daily Beast writer Dan Savage has created the admirable “It Gets Better Project.” Hundreds of people have sent in videos discussing their own experiences as an LGBTQ person. Celebrities like Tim Gunn, Ke$ha, Dave Holmes, Jenny McCarthy and Anne Hathaway, have also contributed to the project. I love what they’re all saying. Tim Gunn gave a particularly heartfelt and wrenching message, moved to tears by the thought of the pain he knows queer teens face. These videos convey the crucial concept that high school is not the epicenter of one’s life and the enduring power of hope. My knee-jerk reaction is of course it gets better, as my life, while still a struggle, got exponentially better once I graduated school. In high school, you are thrown together with people you don’t choose to be around. As a teen, you often live in the moment, not necessarily seeing beyond to the positive and negative consequences down the road. After you turn 18, you might be able to move away and surround yourself with people who are more tolerant of your lifestyle.
Carmen Siering at Ms. Magazine articulately wrote about David who posted a video for the “It Gets Better Project,” who counters Savage’s message of “it getting better.” He asserts that many who have spoken out are white, upper middle-class males (himself included), not fully recognizing the privilege they possess, ignoring how race, class and religion may also affect people’s lives. Quoting a lesbian of color in another video for the project, David says,
“It doesn’t get better, but you get stronger. What gets better isn’t the world around us, but our abilities to cope with the world.”
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford the luxury of moving to another locale that embraces different lifestyles. Not everyone has the means to pick up and move. And even if you do move, is it really so different? Adult life is often like high school with bigger bank accounts. Cliques still exist, there are still social mores and standards you’re supposed to follow. Gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and intersexed individuals still must live in a society composed of binary gender roles that promotes heterosexual relationships as the norm. But the beauty of David’s message is that while things may not always get better, he emphasizes we are never alone.
What kind of world do we live in where we still haven’t achieved equality? The blatantly discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in the military is still in effect. Only 5 states, along with D.C. and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon, allow same-sex marriage and many states don’t allow LGBT couples to adopt children. Aside from Unitarian Universalist churches, many other places of worship don’t accept LGBT parishioners, despite the notion that they should be welcoming to all people.
People often say that kids are cruel; part of the impetus for the bullying that led to the gay teens committing suicide. But adults bear the burden of responsibility as well. Keli Goff of The Loop 21 wrote an impassioned and insightful article on how we can’t just blame the bullies for gay teen suicides; we must blame the adults who are supposed to protect kids. She writes,
“In these recent cases the students and their families sought help from various school officials with limited and disappointing results. But I have a hard time believing that if these kids had been bullied for their race not for their sexual orientation that the adults tasked to protect them would not have reacted differently, or at the very least would have reacted at all. Which makes me think that the kids doing the bullying are not really the ones at fault. They are simply taking their cues from adults. And the message they are receiving is that today in 2010 it may not be okay to call someone the N-word on the playground, but it is okay to call someone the F-word.”
Goff is right; parents must teach their children that it’s not acceptable to use gay slurs, just as it’s not okay to hurl racial slurs. We adults must also set a better example for future generations. We need to be allies to our LGBTQ friends. These are important points for all of us to remember. As Siering points out, our problems won’t magically get better and disappear. We must work for things to improve. I think it’s an important lesson for us all to strive to be better…more tolerant and more supportive of one another. We must speak out against injustice. Until we are all treated equally, we are all imprisoned, none of us free.