Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Napkins come out to support youth

Napkins come out to support youth
                October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals to come out of the closet and openly and shamelessly accept their identity.  However, this Coming Out Day, it was the community of Napa that came out—in support of our LGBT youth.
                A candle light vigil was held Monday night in Veteran’s Park to shed a respectful light on the youth throughout our nation that have recently taken their own lives after being bullied over their actual or perceived sexual orientation.  In attendance were members of community groups, youth, and passersby that were drawn in by the power of the event.  Event coordinators estimated upwards of one hundred people in attendance at the event’s peak.
                Notable speakers included Brad Wagenknect and Bill Dodd from the board of supervisors, Ian Stanley from VOICES, Reverend Tamara George, and Deb Stallings from Unity League.  While the speakers touched on the recent tragedy of LGBT suicides, the predominant message was one of hope and reassurance to our community’s youth—“You are not alone.  We are here.”  In a powerful moment, instigated by Stanley, members of the crowd broke an observation of silence by repeating the message as they felt called to.
                In addition to the speakers, attendees wrote personal messages on white paper bags which were filled with bird seed and votive candles to make luminaries.  The luminaries were placed along the sidewalk to share the purpose, message, and power of the event with pedestrians.  Numerous passersby shouted words of encouragement and support, and several even joined in the festivities.
                The festivities, while somber at times, were kept largely upbeat by the musical stylings of DJ Rotten Robbie.  Far from being disrespectful to the serious nature of the gathering, the positive energy from the music reminded those gathered that there is love and a celebration of life at the core of the community, and that no matter how bad it gets, “It gets better.”—a phrase made popular by columnist Dan Savage and embraced by the community.
Clearly, with such loving and caring citizens, it will continue to get better for LGBT youth, and Napa will be a community where all children feel welcome and accepted.  Attendees of the event made it very clear—No one is alone in their struggles.  Resources are available.
To learn more, visit:
Unity League : www.napavalleyunityleague.org
PFLAG North Bay: www.pflag-nb.org/
VOICES: www.voicesyouthcenter.org/

Monday, October 11, 2010

Breaking the Silence

When it comes to voicing my opinions, I am far from silent.  However, it has been far too long since I've turned to the blogosphere.  I am breaking that silence today because I have been shaken to my core by recent events and feel compelled to act.  I, like so many others, have been moved by the death bully-induced suicide (bullicide) of Tyler Celementi.   As a teacher, a GSA advisor, a gay man, and former depressed-to-near-suicidal gay teen, I want to inject my two-cents into the discussion about gay bullicide.

I was privileged to grow up and come out in the liberal Bay Area at a school of generally accepting and supportive peers.  It was a terrifying and liberating experience, the likes of which can never truly be described by the insufficient power of words.  I say "fortunate" because I had fully prepared myself to 'fight the good fight" and stand up to the bullying and harassment that was associated with being and out gay teen in the late 90's.  Yet despite my fearing for the worst, I received much of the best.  I daresay, coming out only made me more popular.

Mine, sadly, was the exception more so than the rule.  It is sometimes hard to fathom what life is like in other parts of the United States--places where a young man can be beaten and left for dead on the side of a dark, desolate road for being gay, or a young man can be driven to suicide by by the pressure of the closet, or a young woman can be denied access to the prom for being a lesbian, or a school boy can have the word "fag" carved into the flesh of his arm.  These were the places I read about in the paper or heard about on the television, and though I could not fathom them, I was terrified of their reality nonetheless.

I can still remember so clearly hearing the news reports about Matthew Shepard--who was murdered just before I came out of the closet my junior year of high school.  I was so afraid because the hate and violence that took his life were directed at an identity I felt was a part of me.  In short, I felt his fate could be my future, and I had no one to share these fears with.  That's what makes the bullied LGBT teens so different.

A bullied, scared, confused, depressed, or even suicidal LGBT teen often feels they have no one they can talk to because the source of their difficult emotions, feelings related to their emerging identity, may be something they haven't told anyone about.  At least a teen bullied because of weight, gender, race, or religion can oftentimes find solace and support at home, but a queer teen may find nothing at home but more hate.  

Too many LGBT teens are still kicked out by their families for coming out.  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that, "According to one study, 50 percent of gay teens experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out and 26 percent were kicked out of their homes."   How can a teen in trouble get help when the people whose job it is to protect them when no one else will turn their backs on them?  Shame on these parents.  They have blood on their hands.

Everyone that has an opportunity to help a youth in need and turns their back has blood on his or her hands.  Teachers that do not address bullying in their classrooms, administrators that do not take decisive and considerable action when faced with reports of bullying, and fellow students that stand by in silence ALL have blood on their hands.  Too many of us have blood on our hands.

Why don't we all stand up to bullies every time we see them?  Why don't we confront our own bullies?  Why don't we confront people that bully others?  What are we so afraid of?  It all comes back to this question of fear.

We are afraid to protect ourselves because we feel alone.  We are afraid to stand up to bullies and protect others because we feel we will be alone in our efforts and will become a target. It is beyond time we take a stand.  The bullies need to be the ones to feel alone.  The bullies need to feel scared.

Next time you find a bully in action, do something about it.  Whether you are the bullied or a witness, tell someone that can help.  Additionally, tell them to stop.  Stand up to them.  Too often a bully is met with only permissive silence or encouraging laughter by onlookers.  They need to be met with a loud chorus of "LEAVE HIM/HER ALONE!"  Together, we are strong.

Until we are all ready to stand up together, our youth will continue to be victims of bullicide.  Until we show them with actions, not just words, that they are not alone, the bullies will continue to win.  Until we find our strength and our voice and loudly proclaim as one, "WE WILL NOT BE BULLIED!" we will all have some blood on our hands.