Posts tagged “it gets better

A New Anthology of “Letters to My Bully”

With bullying and teen suicides continually in the spotlight, I was honored to have been asked to write a preface for a new anthology, Letters to My Bully, which examines this topic in great depth.  My own Letter to My Bully was incredibly difficult to write, as was the video to make, as it took me back to those difficult days of high school, where I was nervous just to walk across campus.  How someone deals with such experiences can shape their adulthood, for better or worse.  I asked Letters to My Bully editor Azaan Kamau if she would be willing to share her inspiration for the collection, as well as her views on other issues the LGBT community is facing, and am grateful  that she took the time to talk.

It was your vision that led to the creation of this anthology, Letters to My Bully.   What inspired you to compile people’s stories?

Back in October 2010, I wrote and published a book called Got Homophobia.  I was so outraged by the staggering numbers of youth who felt they had no choice but to commit suicide, and felt it was time for us to start the healing process. As adults we subconsciously carry our childhood baggage into adulthood, and that baggage shapes us.  Letters to My Bully was born of necessity to heal the bullied, addressing the issue head-on instead of sweeping it under the rug.  I wanted to send the message that you can survive this–that there are other options beside suicide.

Were you yourself the victim of bullying?

Yes, and I share some of those experienced in the book’s introduction. (more…)

My High School Bully

I’ve written about my high school bully before, and the responses I got were very touching and supportive.  So many of us were greatly affected by being bullied, for better or worse, which makes it imperative we continue to highlight the issue.  I’m happy to note that a new collection, entitled “Letters to My Bully,” to which I was honored to have been asked to write the preface, will be released this month.  I’ve also taken this opportunity to finally put my words on film, and created this video (below) about my own experience.

But I want to hear from you: What was your experience like growing up?  Were you bullied?  How did you survive?  What advice do you have for others?

How can we teach others that even words can leave scars?  That old “sticks and stones” poem had it all wrong…  Words can harm.

Disqualified from High School Contest, Gay Teen Speaks Out

Kearian Giertz is the gay Fullerton, California, 17-year-old who made national news headlines last week, following his disqualification from a school contest for his statement supportive of marriage equality. During an annual rite of passage at his high school, known as the Mr. Fullerton Contest, Kearian was asked, in front of an audience, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?,” and expressed his desire to find his life mate and be legally wed, only to find himself disqualified by a school administrator, who had his microphone cut off.  Upon hearing his story, several elements stood out to me as intriguing.  First, compared to my own angst-ridden life in high school almost 25 years ago, it was refreshing that this young man felt comfortable enough to proclaim his desire to wed another man.  Second, I was impressed by how quickly the high school responded to his disqualification, firmly supporting Giertz’ right to free speech and calling the administrator’s actions inappropriate.  Lastly, I was struck by how, upon being disqualified, instead of reacting with the expected anger and hostility,  the teen and his friends chose a more peaceful option, turning this disqualification into a teachable moment.

Having recently written my own letter to my high school bully, I was curious as to how today’s youth were coping with harassment on campus, as well as in their daily lives, and sat down with Giertz, fellow out-teen Blake Danford, and heterosexual, LGBT-supportive Katy Hall, all friends since 7th grade and now Fullerton Union High School seniors, to discuss what it is like to be out and gay in school, as well as the event which propelled them into the headlines.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:   First, let’s start with you, Blake.  When did you first realize you were gay?

Blake Danford:  I first realized I wasn’t really attracted to girls around 4th grade, but came out as gay in 8th grade to a girl in my English class, who was a lesbian.  Eventually, I told a few others, about 5 people total, but it wasn’t until my freshman year I began telling even more people.

Edwards-Stout: At what point did you tell your family?

Danford:  I came out to my mom in my sophomore year.

Edwards-Stout:  And she’s been supportive?

Danford:  Definitely.  I think it was actually harder for me, as I was expecting her not to be.  It was almost like, “Wait, are you really okay with this?” Her support almost seemed fake to me. My parents divorced when I was three, so I’m still not completely out to my dad’s side of the family, as we don’t see them.  Anything out of the norm is not okay with them.  I’ve had them tell me, directly, that if I ever “became” gay, they’d kill me on the spot.  And I assumed that was how everyone would be, so my mom’s support really threw me.  But I’m really glad her support was genuine.

Edwards-Stout:  Kearian, what about you? Did you always know you were gay?


A Letter to My Bully

Dear Dirk,

I have hated you almost every day since we first met. But for different reasons altogether than you might expect.

I still remember the terror I felt, every time I approached the soccer field. It was junior high, a difficult time for almost everyone, but for me, especially so.

You see, I’d always known I was gay. Even in kindergarten, just looking at Jeff Hayward’s smile would make me happy, and I knew, intrinsically, that it was alright to feel this way—to love other boys—as everything about it felt completely natural and unforced.

In junior high, however, once placed on the same soccer team with you, everything changed.

What I had seen as natural and good, you were suddenly calling abnormal and detestable. Every “faggot” you spit towards me hit directly between the eyes, and the whispers, taunts, and dirty looks you and Mike Baker sent my way continually unnerved me, affecting both my sense of self, as well as my performance on the field. Because of you, questions about my masculinity hovered over me, and I would feel physically ill at the thought of another practice or game. I would choose different, roundabout paths to my classes, just to avoid where I knew you’d be.

In high school, while I went on to be active in theatre and academics, you and Mike continued to rise socially, becoming the big men on campus that I’d longed to be. You were even voted onto the homecoming king’s court, and as you took to the field, flashing your charming smile, all I could see was the sneer on your lips when you turned and glanced my way.

But that isn’t why I have hated you.

Just prior to our senior year, during summer break, word came that you’d tried to commit suicide and were in a coma. No one knew what had happened, but you eventually returned to school our senior year.  You were just as popular as you had been before, and perhaps even more so, now that you had this added sense of intrigue about you.  But despite your outright hatred of me, I still wondered about you and about what could have possibly led you to try to take your own life.  You, more than anyone, seemed to have it all, and despite the way you continued to torment me, I felt a pang of pity for you.

The following summer, I got another call. You’d again tried to kill yourself, tying a noose from the garage rafters–only this time you succeeded. Your mother discovered you, hanging there, upon her return home.


Charles Perez has No Shame

I first met Charles Perez over 20 years ago, in the late 1980’s, through a mutual friend. I couldn’t get over how smart, well-spoken, and passionate he was about politics and culture, and he looked like a million bucks to boot.  I remember biking along the beach with him one day, when he suddenly asked why he and I had never dated.  I think I must have blushed crimson red, and probably blamed it on the sun.

Since then, Charles has worked in broadcast journalism, as a news anchor in both New York and Miami, as host of American Journal, as contributor to The Huffington Post and The Advocate, and even had his own syndicated talk show named, quite aptly, The Charles Perez Show.  He’s lived a fascinating life, and chose to chronicle it all in his book, Confessions of a Gay Anchorman.

It is an eye-opening read, getting the inside scoop on what it is like to be gay in the clubby world of broadcast news, where — ironically — image is more valued than truthfulness.

Charles found himself caught between his professional and personal desires, and the tale of how these two collided, and the road he has traveled since, makes for a compelling story.  Filled with star cameos, Confessions pulls no punches, as Charles shares how his journey and struggles led to a battle with identity and esteem issues, as well as alcoholism, which at the time seemed insurmountable.  Today, Charles has found great happiness.  He and his partner, Keith Rinehart, married in 2009, and last year adopted a beautiful baby girl.

And on top of all this, as a result of his journey, Charles put his beliefs into action, creating the No Shame Project, with the goal being to eradicate shame for those growing up LGBT.

“It’s no longer acceptable to bully someone, reject someone or to fire someone just for being gay,” he says. “Kids are killing themselves because someone taught them that being gay is so bad, so shameful, that death is a preferable alternative. That has to end.”

“There is No Shame in being gay,” he says. “Let’s make gay okay.”

I wholeheartedly agree.