You don’t have to be gay or lesbian to suffer from bullying on the basis of sexual orientation.
I’m not gay, but when I started high school, I was bookish and tried out for plays and was shy around girls, and so a set of jocks decided that I was gay. In swim class, they used my head for a diving board and tossed my clothes in a urinal. They tripped me in the hallways. They slammed me up against the walls in gym. They spit on my head. I got egged at Halloween. If I objected or tried to fight back, they’d deliver a punch or a swift kick, always with their jock buddies around to give them backup. Over and over, these attacks were accompanied by the word “queer.” Fucking queer. Stupid queer. Smear the queer. Queer, queer, queer. Bash.
Since those days, I’ve had little patience for people who refer to verbal criticisms directed their way as “bashing.” Bullying in school involves the use of some derogatory words, but this isn’t about the politics of free expression. When kids who are (or who are perceived to be) lesbian or gay are bullied in schools, they’re regularly threatened and assaulted. This is behavior which would get someone arrested if the victim were an adult. But the kids are just kids, so they aren’t listened to. Worse, the kids being bullied in those schools are trapped, forced by law to attend and be surrounded by fellow students and teachers who often just don’t care.
Three things need to happen to stop the assaults against kids on the basis of their sexual orientation. The first thing that needs to happen is for principals and teachers to stop letting that behavior slide. The second thing that needs to happen is for the community of adults to frankly and sincerely speak out against bullies’ behavior in public and in the home, even and especially if the perpetrators are (as they tend to be) local sports stars. The third thing that needs to happen is for the same community of adults to visibly send a message to the victims of bullying behavior that are out there, victims who are invisible and silent because they’ve learned it’s best to keep their heads down and stay quiet. The message that they need to hear is that they are surrounded by people in their community who don’t approve of the violence directed against them and who won’t let it slide and who will back them up if they need it. They need to know who those people are. They need to know that one of the people is you.
That third goal is what Spirit Day is all about. This October 20 and next October 20 and the October 20 after that, wear purple and let people know why. You’re a big grown-up and you’re protected from violence in a way that kids aren’t — so for just one day why don’t you take the flak that’s flying and knock it down? While you’re at it, send out a message to these targeted kids that yes, it gets better.
Because it does get better. Really, it does. By the time I was a junior in high school, I’d grown big and strong enough that I wasn’t a good target for the bullies any more. And then, when I graduated from high school, I could finally walk away from the violent bigots I’d been thrown in with every day. Life has been pretty sweet ever since.
Since that day, I’ve been living free and clear of harassment and violence. The bullies are still around, trying to deny gay and lesbian people equality under law, trying to make everyone else live by their vision of “family values” while they teach their sons and daughters how to kick the queer and not get caught. I’m just not their target any more; they’re too cowardly to pick on me. Like all predators, they pick out the small ones. I can walk away now that I’m strong, but I shouldn’t, and neither should you. We should walk right back into the bullies’ faces and let them know they won’t target the next generation, not if we can help it.
Get public about it. Do it for the kids.