Sunday, October 24, 2010

Youth and bullying

This morning, my church did a special service about GLBTs and their straight allies.  This was a moving service, we had a very large choir performance and several wonderful lay testimony presentations and I found myself thinking about my own stance on the GLBT community.

When I was in 9th grade, I met the first of many openly gay men who would impact my life -- my English teacher.  Everyone at school knew he was gay and many of the students made ridiculous comments like "if he touches you, you'll turn gay".  My parents also knew of his sexual preference but never made a big deal out of it.  When asked by neighbors whose sons and daughters were going to be in the same English class with me, my parents would respond that it didn't bother them that he was gay and they didn't think who he slept with had any impact or made any indication as to how he was going to teach 9th grade English literature and composition.  I think since my parents didn't make it an issue, it wasn't an issue for me.  I loved his class!  He was a wonderful teacher and really engaged the class in discussions about the books we were reading, and he encouraged debate and reflection.  He was my favorite teacher in 9th grade.

I am sure I met other gays and lesbians throughout high school, but I don't think they were open and "out of the closet" yet.  I am not at all shocked about the various classmates from high school who are now out and open about their sexuality.  I'm just sorry that they felt they could not be their true selves when we were in high school.  When my family moved to Colorado Springs in 1992, I was a junior in high school.  By this time I had formed a very clear opinion of gays and lesbians.  They were people like everyone else and what two consenting adults did in the privacy of their own home was none of my business.  It was not my place to condemn someone for who they loved, just as I didn't want anyone to condemn me for who I loved.  In high school, I faced a lot of ridicule for dating outside my race.  I didn't think it was a big deal, dating boys who were white or Hispanic, but other people did and I was made fun of and picked on for it.  It hurts and I didn't want to be the kind of person who hurts others, so I accepted the right of another person to love, no matter the color or gender of their heart's desire.

In college, I met a lot of gays and lesbians.  It wasn't an issue for me, I actually appreciated that these men and women felt they could trust me with who they really were.  There were a couple of times when dorm mates came out to me, which I thought was really awesome.  I saw it as an honor that they saw me as someone they could confide in.  My college also had two support groups/clubs for students and professors who were GLBT and their straight allies/friends were invited to participate.  I never actively participated in these groups, and right now I don't know why.  I did support the members of those groups, I guess I just didn't do it openly.

Now, it's 2010 and GLBT tweens, teens and young adults are killing themselves because of the bullying they endure on a daily basis at school and on the Internet.  When I was a teen, there was no Internet and the world wide web was just something we saw on shows like Star Trek or the movie 2001.  Bullying occurred in the hallways of school and, less frequently, at the mall on the weekends when kids decided to hang out there.  There was no Facebook to post hurtful messages on and no Twitter to tweet mean things about.  Just the typical school day, as the students walked through the halls between classes and in the lunchroom.

I was a victim of bullying when I was younger.  It started when we moved to California when I was in the 8th grade.  This was the first time I had been bullied and it caught me off guard.  I'm black, or African-American for the politically correct folks, and I always knew that there people out there who wouldn't like me because of the color of my skin.  I just didn't expect to be hated by other blacks.  This black girl, Mandy, in one of my 8th grade classes started calling me "Oreo" and "bitch".  I would go home after school, upset and bothered by this and my mother explained to me that the word Oreo was meant to describe what this girl perceived me to be: black on the outside and white on the inside.  Just like the cookie.  I have never been able to wrap my brain around that idea -- that a person can be a color on the outside and a different one on the inside.  How exactly does that work?  When you are a certain "color" are you supposed to act a certain way?  What way was I, as a black person, supposed to act and why did she think I was acting white?  I never knew the answer to those questions, but the bullying and name calling didn't stop.  Mandy, and other black students continued to call me an Oreo.  My mom told me I should ignore her and she'll lose the desire to continue to make fun of me.  Well, ignoring Mandy didn't work.  She kept at it, even calling me an Oreo in front of our P.E. teacher who reprimanded her and gave her detention.  Even that didn't stop Mandy from making 8th through 10th grade miserable for me.

It's hard being different.  It's hard feeling like you don't fit in.  I've felt that way for a long time, ever since we moved to Colorado Springs in 1992 when I was 16.  Race is an issue that has always been part of this country's history, and I fear, it will continue to remain a huge issue that either unites or divides this country.  No matter how hard people fight for racial equality, there will continue to be people who believe there is a superior and several inferior races.  Now the fight has turned towards the GLBT community.  This is a new fight for equality.  It is being waged in reality and in cyberspace.  We are losing our bright, vibrant GLBT youth because of the bullying they face everyday for being themselves, for being who they are.

I worry about our youth, our young GLBT.  I wish they knew that the nightmare that is high school will end and then they will find themselves out in the larger world, surrounded by people from all walks of life.  Surviving high school can be very difficult, there are so many cliques and groups and clubs, that it can be difficult to find where you belong, where you fit in.  The one thing I know is that life can and will get better.  There will be a day when you meet people who don't care about the color of your skin, about the religion you practice, about the person you choose to love.  I certainly don't care about someone's color or religion or lifestyle.  This is what I believe: God created love; God created humans in His/Her image and these humans are colorful. God loves all humans, no matter their color.  God is colorblind, therefore love is colorblind.  I recently decided to add this: God made some of us Two Spirited and He/She loves all of us, equally.  Love cares not who or what you are, it just cares that you are loved.

To all the youth -- the colorful, the straight, the GLBT, the young and the old -- it does get better and you are loved.
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