I started high school in 1999. My sister was a senior and I was a freshman. My sister at the time had a girlfriend and most of our small school knew she was gay. I was not gay at the time. I know that’s hard to understand, but I truly wasn’t. I was into guys. Anyway, my sister faced a lot of shit for being gay in a small town. She never complained about any of the discrimination she faced. She never talked badly about other people at the time. She just took it. I was angry for her. Because we are very different people, and her way of handling situations was not at all how I would have liked to handle it. But she had to do it her way, and she did. It sucked being powerless. And unfortunately that would not be the last time I felt that way.
Fast forward three years. I am now the senior. I still am not gay. I know, it’s weird, but I really wasn’t. I was dating a boy and I was definitely still heterosexual. My sister graduated three years earlier. But it’s a small town, and people don’t forget. I would sit in history class and every day some boys in my class would make “gay” comments and then crack up, and literally point and laugh at me. I was not gay. My sister was. Every day I would fume, and I, unlike my sister would have done, would stand up and tell them to shut the hell up in the middle of class. Then my teacher would get mad at me for interrupting class. After a month of this I finally yelled at my teacher in the middle of class, “Are you ever going to do anything?” and he got angry and basically said no. His exact words were, “I shouldn’t have to be the authority figure here.” Which looking back is super messed up because he was the authority figure. I stormed out of his class and went straight to my guidance counselor. I didn’t visit the guidance office very frequently. Maybe twice in four years. But I had known my guidance counselor since I was ten because he was also my sister’s guidance counselor.
I told him the situation. I cried, and I told him how some other kids brought in a bible to show me where it specifically says “Man shall not lay with man”. I told him the guys in my class were making derogatory statements to me daily. I needed help. He asked me how far I wanted to take this. He suggested I withdraw from the class so as not to make a big deal about it. He said he would put me in an independent study and it wouldn’t affect my GPA at all. I remember I instantly stopped crying, because I realized he wasn’t going to help. I mean he was, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t going to help me fight this. He was telling me to let this go, sweep it under the rug, hang in there until graduation. Don’t challenge those guys or my teacher because it could have lasting repercussions.
I remember feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and scared. If some one I knew since I was ten didn’t have my back then who did? I remember I left his office and got into my car and drove away from school. I couldn’t do it. I cried a lot that day. Then I went back the next day, and I told him with swollen eyes that I would do what he suggested. Because what else could I do? I completed an independent study with a different teacher, and I never spoke to the other history teacher again. Except one day he asked me for a hall pass when I was walking by his classroom and I gave him the middle finger.
As a teenager there is already a feeling of powerlessness in almost every situation. Because adults always win. But as an LGBT youth or even a sibling of an LGBT youth there is a sense of vulnerability in addition to being powerless. There are so many adults willing to help nice little White kids. But that list dwindles when you are a minority. Thinking back there is one teacher I can remember from high school who would have been “safe” for me to talk to about my sexuality, the bullying, and my sister. After I graduated I found out other teachers were gay but none of them were open during my school years. That one teacher who was there for my sister and I was not gay, but openly supportive of all kids. But she couldn’t solve everything. I wanted desperately to fight that battle. I wanted to go to the Principal and tell him everything that was happening throughout my high school years, but the teenage code of not being a snitch was strong. And when I finally got overwhelmed with it all and reached my breaking point I was told to essentially sweep it under the rug. I sort of understand now why that was his advice. We literally had five months of school left, and I would be making some serious allegations against students and a teacher. I was accepted at that time at a prestigious college, I was in the top ten of my class academically, and I think he truly wanted me to just try and get through my last semester of school. I don’t feel he was malicious in any way. I can see now he was trying in his own way to protect me from a protracted unpleasant battle. But at the time it felt awful.
I’m all grown up now though, and I have some things to say about that experience. To the guys in my high school history class; I forgive you. I hope you have grown into better human beings; better men than the boys you were. To the one teacher who did not take a stand for an LGBT youth being bullied on a daily basis in your classroom- I hope above all hopes that no other child has suffered because of you. To the bystanders who saw it all and said nothing- I hope you speak up in future if you are a witness to bullying. To my sister- rock on with your bad self, I have no regrets about my life and neither should you. To the one teacher who created safe space for us both…thank-you.
To any LGBT youth being bullied reading this please comment so I can reach out to you. You are not alone. There will be times when you have to let it go, and move on, and sweep it under the rug. But there will be times when you can take a stand and fight. Seek out those who support you, and whatever adversity you may face now I promise it will pass. None of it is worth taking your own life.
In the current climate of our country LGBT youth are especially vulnerable. They live daily with fears that normal teens don’t have to worry about. Please be mindful of this and be that supportive adult, teacher, friend, or parent. Be the safe space.
And in closing, this happened seventeen years ago. I still remember much of it vividly. Bullying leaves lasting marks on people. Bullying literally has a mortality rate. Youths kill themselves due to being victims of bullying. Speak up, speak out, and be kind.