Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why We Wore Purple

I want you to see this video (at the end of the blog post), because no matter your opinion on the issue of homosexuality, surely we can all agree that school is supposed to be a safe place for every student. Joel Burns, from Fort Worth, Texas, is openly gay, married and an elected official on City Council. None of that matters, though. In this video, Joel speaks out against the bullying that has caused a number of suicides in the last few weeks.
I want to say, again, that it doesn't matter your view on the issue (we can agree to disagree if you want). What matters is that no child should end his or her life because they can't find another way out. No child should go to school in fear of being physically and/or emotionally bullied because of who he or she is. No child should ever be told they don't deserve to live, or that Hell is waiting for them, or that the world doesn't need someone like them. I have some readers who are very strong Christians, and I imagine that they would be appalled at the notion that children are telling other children that the world doesn't want them.
Yesterday, my husband and I along with my mother and over 1 million others decided to show our support for the victims of this bullying that cost them their own lives by wearing purple. We stood up for those students, we took a stand to say that no child should fear school, and no child should fear another child. But there is a bigger picture here, and that picture has 2 main points:

1. Anti-gay language and violence should constitute hate crime, and current legislation should reflect it as such. No one should have their life taken from them because of their sexual orientation. When we look at stories like that of Matthew Shepard, we should realize that sexual orientation, just like race, native language and gender is just one facet of a human being. Tunnel vision is what causes hate crime, as people are narrowed into one characteristic and then punished for it. We have legal protection for those being persecuted because of their race and religion, why not sexual orientation, too? We just aren't there yet. As long as people like Carl Paladino, who openly states (while pandering to potential voters) that no one should be brainwashed to believe that "homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option", and American voters back policies like Don't Ask Don't Tell and Proposition 8 (in California) and The Defense of Marriage Act, we won't get there anytime soon. I live and work in a small conservative town, and let me tell you that my students don't even know how same sex couples "have" or "get" children. They don't know because "we" don't talk about it, and "we" don't talk about it because "we" know it's wrong. Or at least, that's what Mom/Dad/Auntie/The Preacher/The Sunday School Teacher told us. And I don't want to get into the religion of it all, either. I would never insist (because I value the democracy of America) that churches change their belief systems to be more welcoming and accepting of the LGBT community. But to deny same sex couples the right to a legal marriage? That's just wrong. A marriage in the religious sense of the word is another story altogether, and that should be left up to church leadership organizations.

There are so many organizations that are taking a stand for the rights of the LGBT community, and the one that comes to mind that I am involved (on the fringe) with is the Human Rights Campaign. This organization works as a political and social advocate, and their website has some great resources on how you can get involved, too.

2. Bullying is an increasing problem in our schools, and something must be done to protect those who are targeted. North Carolina has recently focused legislation on bullying, particularly cyberbullying, in the public schools. The issue with bullying, in my own opinion, is the enforcement of these policies from school to school. Am I saying that my administration doesn't do a good job dealing with bullies? No, not at all. I think my administrators are well read and are consistent and fair in this particular area. Then again, when I think about how much bullying goes on in my school, that level is notably low, which I think may be a direct result of the "we don't talk about it" situation that goes on around here.

If you need help, or you know someone who does, please know that you are not alone in your battles. There are people in this world who love you and do not even know you. There are others who will reach out and help you without knowing the first thing about you. Please, I'm begging you, don't take your own life. There is so much more out there than these temporary situations. You will find the person who loves you as much as you love them. You will see that there is life beyond these high school years. Your heart will probably be broken a time or two, or maybe more. But please know that we all hurt before we find the right person, and that it's part of growing up.

To get more information or resources on working with gay teens, check out The Trevor Project.

I hope no one finds this post to be incendiary; it was not my intention. Sometimes, we just need to lean on each other as an example to others that we can all get along despite our differences. As a society, it is our duty to stand united against teen suicide, no matter what the circumstances that prompted it, and anti-gay bullying is no exception.

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