This is the article I wrote for Rhode Island’s Get Magazine. They Titled the article, “It Gets Better and Other Life’s Truths by Joe Brummer” and made it one of their cover stories. Feel free to spread it around.
It Gets Better and Other Life’s Truths
It is hard to know exactly where the right place would be to start this story. Is it with the statistics on GLBT suicides? Is it the statistics on GLBT bullying and violence in our communities? Perhaps it is with my own experiences of being bullied or gay bashed? Or is it the gut wrenching, distressing realization that those statistics have names and faces and we have seen 15 young lives cut short at their own hands in just 60 days. Of course, these are only the lives we heard about in the news and minuses those that were lost and went unreported.
Justin Aaberg (15) July 9, 2010 in Minnesota
Billy Lucas (15) September 9, 2010 in Indiana
Cody J. Barker (17) September 13, 2010 in Wisconsin
Tyler Clementi (18) September 22, 2010 in New Jersey
Asher Brown (13) September 23, 2010 in Texas
Harrison Chase Brown (15) September, 25 2010 in Colorado
Seth Walsh (13) September 25, 2010 in California
Raymond Chase (19) September 29, 2010 in Rhode Island
Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010 in Massachusetts
Caleb Nolt (14) September 30, 2010 in Indiana
Alec Whitney Henriksen (19) September 30 in Indiana
Zach Harrington (19) October 5, 2010 in Oklahoma
Jeanine Blanchette (21) October 5, 2010 in Toronto
Chantal Dube (17) October 5, 2010 in Toronto
Aiyisha Hassan (19) October 12, 2010 in California
All of these lives were cut short because they believed the world did not and would never accept them as they were, gay. Many of them were not just bullied. They were tortured by their peers. In some cases, the schools did little of nothing to protect or console them. I know those days well. I remember first being bullied in the third and fourth grades for being smaller than most other kids. I wasn’t much for sports and it seemed the world knew more about me being gay than I did or at least that is what they told me with the taunts and name calling. One of the leaders of this little movement to beat the little Brummer kid we’ll call Billy C. He once led a group of kids to my house to ask my mom if I could come out to play, my mom on the other hand was wise to this game. I remember her in her night gown, pushing this kid into the middle of the street telling him not to mess with her son. It was a failed threat as they continued to bully me well into high school.
Another kid who often bullied me in the sixth and seventh grade named Mike M would come threaten me each day at recess. Typical anti-gay names combined with some pushing, shoving and knocking me down left me constantly scared. I would do my best to hide my fear and play it tough. I would see him coming and begin to shake, sweat and feel helpless as I was a pretty small kid. I once brought my little blue, Cub Scout pen knife to school and kept it open in my jacket pocket so when Mike came to mess with me, I could just scare him off. When I did finally pull out the knife, one of the good nuns came and took it and never mentioned it again. She also did nothing to stop the bullying.
In sixth grade, my family received endless prank phone calls for weeks on end. We would hang up the phone and it would ring again within seconds. My parents eventually traced the calls, and the two school girls who were doing it claimed it was my fault because I shot them the finger when they teased me.
High school was no better, I remember Mike C and his goons forcing me to sing happy birthday to a teacher on a table in the lunch room on the first week of freshman year. I was embarrassed, afraid and dreaded what was ahead of me. I went home and hid in my room that day. The teacher did nothing.
I look at the story of Billy Lucas in Indiana where his bullies continued to harass him after his death by leaving crude comments on a FaceBook page created in his memory by his friends. Even in death, these bullies were trying to send a message that being gay was a “bad” thing. What drives this?
The message gay youth hear is the same message many of us heard as we grew up. Being gay is sinful, immoral, and disgusting. We heard that gays are diseased, child molesters, to be feared. Basically, we were programmed to believe we were inherently bad people just because we were attracted to members of the same sex. It is no wonder with this message being the one youth hear, they choose to harm themselves. It is also no wonder when bullies hear this; they believe their behavior should be celebrated because they are somehow doing society a favor.
The San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute has found that LGBTQ youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health in August of 1998 showed that out of 131 gay/bi males, 28% had attempted suicide.
The silver lining in these horrible events is the brain child of advice columnist, Dan Savage. The “It Gets Better” campaign started with one video of Dan and his partner telling gay youth, it does get better. Within hours of their first video post to YouTube, dozens, then hundreds of videos came from other gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual and even some of our best straight allies in the public eye.
Watching many of these videos I must admit didn’t just choke me up, I outright cried. The stories moved me because the sense of concern for gay youth is so sincere. I do think the award for best, “It gets better” video belongs to Fort Worth City Councilman, Joel Burns.
Burns made his plea to young gay youth at a city council meeting where he spoke on camera of his own experience growing up gay being bullied, harassed and called a “Faggot.” A word, many of us heard and were called before we even knew what it meant. Burns, fighting back tears and even stopping at some points to regain his composure, says to GLBT youth, “This story is not just for the adults here who may choose or not choose to support me. This story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight, or the rope, or the pill bottle, you need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it, on that unfortunate day, there is so, so ,so much more. Yes, high school was difficult, coming out was painful, but life got so much better for me.”
Beyond these touching moments and glimpses of hope, much pain still prevails. These suicides have helped to draw the media eye to the very size of this bullying issue as suddenly dozens of reports have come in drawing attention to the violence gays and lesbians face. An 11 year old boy in Ohio had his arm broken by classmates because he wanted to be a cheerleader. In Newark, DE a young seven year old boy was locked in a port-a-potty screaming while the bullies knocked the unit over covering him in human waste. In Dallas, TX, three teens were arrested for beating a 14 year old classmate on the bus while calling him a faggot. The driver of the bus and the bus monitor did nothing to stop the attack.
We have a long way to go when it comes to protecting our youth. Research shows when anti-bullying campaigns directly address sexual orientation, they are more effective than the ones that do not. While anti-gay, religious groups fight against efforts to include GLBT voices in anti-bullying campaigns claiming these are attempts to push our agenda, students are still in harm’s way.
I remember being 20 years old in Southern NJ and having my head repeated kicked against cement next to the Cooper River while being spit on and hearing the words, “You ready to meet Jesus ya’ little faggot?” I remembering believing I was about to die and agreeing for a moment that I deserved it. All the while, those committing these actions celebrated “getting the bad guys” we have been made to be by our government, our churches, our movies, our TV’s and our society. I remember waking up 3 days later and seeing my head swollen three times its size, black and blue and stitches in my face. In those days, I believed I deserved what I got because it was true, I was a faggot. I knew because Billy C and Mike C made sure I knew and never forgot. Those views of me were changed by the love of some great friends and a great partner who I love and have lived with for the last 10 years.
Anti-bullying campaigns are just band-aids on the larger problem. We need to completely change the way GLBT folks are seen. No more demonizing, less than human debates about our lives in the campaign trails and Fox news. No more laws that dehumanize GLBT folks by saying were are a danger to the military and our unions will destroy marriage. If you portray us as an enemy to be defeated, then violence against us will just be celebrated.
If you want kids to stop killing themselves for being gay, then you need to change the message they hear that tells them they are less than human. Change the message to one of hope that truly says, “Yes, it does get better.”
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"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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