Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

A message for queer kids: It gets better.

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you may recall a post I wrote a couple years ago—“Go [away], Skyhawks!”—in which I shared a few memories of my high school years, explaining how they weren’t the best years of my life and that I thus didn’t care to participate in my 25th high school reunion. (Interestingly, despite my telling Skyhawks to go away, searches for “Fairborn High School” and even “Fairborn High School class of 1984” are among those bringing people most frequently to my website.) It probably won’t surprise you (although it would have in fact surprised my teenaged self) that I’m not alone in feeling that way. Lots of queers do not look back fondly on high school.

In fact, quite a few queer teens right now aren’t having great high school experiences. Despite all the gains queers have made, despite the fact that queer teens are portrayed on such great shows such as Glee, there are still queer teens who are being bullied in school, who feel alone. Some feel so alone that they think the only way out is to kill themselves, which is what 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana, did earlier this month, hanging himself rather than continuing to put up with being bullied for being different.

Was Billy Lucas queer? It’s impossible to know for certain, but he did get called “gay,” according to schoolmates of his (see this Fox 59 news report), and probably using ruder words like “faggot” Cocksucker! Does it offend you to see the word “cocksucker” here? Well it should offend you more that kids in schools across the country are shouting “cocksucker” at their queer schoolmates. and “homo” and “cocksucker” and many other words that newspapers won’t print.

How do I know what words Billy Lucas got called? Because I got called those words myself growing up (long before I ever sucked a cock or admitted to anyone that I wanted to). Bigots and bullies haven’t gotten more creative over the years.

And, again, though I didn’t realize it then, I wasn’t the only one. The Fox 59 news story about Billy Lucas’s suicide and bullying quotes a former student from his high school who also got called names and who got beaten up and whose “awful memories of high school came rushing back when he heard about Billy’s suicide.” This former student is only 21 and refused to be identified, but there are plenty of us who’ve since come out and will testify openly to our shitty treatment.

 

Someone else who’s willing to testify to the shitty treatment queer kids have faced and continue to face is Dan Savage, editorial director of The Stranger, Seattle’s independent weekly newspaper, and more famous as the foul-mouthed author of the long-running sex advice column “Savage Love.” Savage posted on The Stranger’s blog about Billy Lucas’s suicide, and now he’s sharing some of his own horror stories, how his being “really different” made school bad, how he got “picked on a lot, even by teachers too,” how he got beat up (read this New York Times story for details).

But Savage wants to do more than just talk about how bad school has been and how bad school is for so many queer kids. He wants to reach out to queer kids who are currently being bullied and who may currently be contemplating suicide with a message:
It gets better.

Savage realized that we queers who’ve survived may not be able to stop the current crop of Here’s a message from me to Candi Cushman of Focus on the Family: Fuck you! asshole bullies from making life miserable for their queer classmates (or to keep asshole organizations such as Focus on the Family from supporting anti-gay bullies), but we do have the power to let the younger queers following up behind us know that they’re not alone, that life does get better if only they can hang on long enough.

And one way to get that message out there is through a tool we didn’t have as kids, namely YouTube. Savage has created a YouTube Channel called “It Gets Better,” and
Watch Dan Savage and his husband Terry
he’s managed to convince his publicity-shy (and cute) husband Terry to appear in the channel’s first video, in which Dan and Terry talk not only about their difficult experiences growing up queer but also and more importantly about how great their lives have been since high school. Since that first video, many more have been added, and more are coming.

Will I do a video? Probably not. I’ve done my part by highlighting this campaign, by being openly gay, and by talking about gay issues on this blog, including some of my experiences in school. That Skyhawks post I mentioned at the start of this post wasn’t all negative—I point out in it that “my life since high school has been much, much better,” and it’s true, my life has been good. It would have been better if I’d gotten this message as a teenager.

 
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