Why did I stay in the closet for so long? There are lots of reasons. I learned very early that it was safer in the closet than out of the closet. How could I have known this? After all I didn’t come out of the closet until I was in my fifty’s. I learned the safety of the closet by seeing the cruel way my peers treated anyone that they could get away with calling a “fag.”
In fact, in high school, I experienced some of that harassment myself. If I wore clothing that was too trendy (a pair of black and white plaid wool bell-bottom pants comes to mind) I got called a fag. I could take you right to the place in the south hall where it was said. I never wore those pants again. I wasn’t being singled out; every underclassman was harassed like this. It might have been just a universal tease but because I was struggling with my sexuality it was particularly threatening.
I also “took it on the chin” many times. “Chining” as it was called was a brief contact between the chin-er and the chin-e. The Chin-er would cup his hand as though he were stroking his cock and then briefly press the circled thumb and index finger against the chin of the chin-e (victim.) It was done very quickly and no physical harm was done but it was intended to be degrading and humiliating. There was definitely an element of aggression unspoken threat of violence. “Chining” was something that was done all the time to everyone but somehow it bothered me a great deal. I was afraid that the person who was doing it had somehow found me out and that there disdain for “fags” would turn into violent behavior toward me.
But that was then, more than forty years ago. Things are better now. Right? Well in many ways they are certainly better for me. But I am not a teenager. But kids that are struggling to be liked, fit in, be accepted are still just as fragile as I was back in High School. That struggle makes us do illogical things. For me it was to date and then marry a woman. How stupid. I liked men. That didn’t make any sense at all.
But some kids have far greater struggles than I did and do far worse things in response to those struggles. Last week, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself by jumping off a bridge after his roommate secretly recorded a video of him having sex with another male student in the privacy of his dorm room. The roommate then broadcast the video online.
While this is certainly a very severe incident it is not isolated. Tyler's death was the result of rampant of anti-gay harassment. He was just one of many victims that we know of. There have been a number of recent suicides among teenagers who were ruthlessly "bullied to death."
A recent letter from Joe Solmonese of the HRC explains that “Tyler wasn't the only one. After months of relentless bullying, 13-year-old Seth Walsh hung himself from a tree outside his California home this week. Billy Lucas of Indiana was 15 years old when he hung himself after being called a "fag" over and over again. Asher Brown's classmates teased him without mercy and acted out mock gay sex acts in class, and last Thursday he shot himself in the head. He was only 13.”
Ellen DeGeneres points out that the loss of just one life is a tragedy – but this is an epidemic. We need to do something.
To that end the HRC has developed an innovative program called Welcoming Schools, that gives elementary school teachers, parents and students the country the tools to help stop the name-calling, bullying and gender stereotyping that so many students face every day. It helps kids learn respect and tolerance early on, to prevent violence later in middle and high school
We need to speak out. It is unfortunate that many who are most aware of the damage that this kind of bullying can do are the least likely to speak out because they are in the closet and afraid that somehow speaking to this subject will out them. I urge you to speak out.
The HRC suggests you contact Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. By going to federal website for the Department of education you can contact Arne Duncan (you can even do this anonymously). Ask him to improve our nation’s anti-bullying program. Speak out immediately – and to push every school anti-bullying program in the nation to include sexual orientation and gender identity like HRC's Welcoming Schools program. You can do something – we all need to do something.
Here are some of the things you can do
1. Contact Arne Duncan
2. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.
3. Let educators and administrators in your local school district know about www.welcomingschools.org and explain why you want to see Welcoming Schools in elementary schools near you.
4. Cut and paste the address of this blog or some the contents of this blog to friends.
The more we spread the word, the better our chances of preventing another tragedy and the better we will sleep.
Don’t let the bullies win.