Since my last column, the death of 17-year old Michigan high school student Josh Pacheco became the most recent widely reported case of suicide attributed to anti-gay bullying. In reading news stories about Josh, I mourned the loss of his young life – and I grieved for a family that lost its beloved son. But as I read the online comments that accompanied these articles, I grew sadder still – and sometimes, angry.
Josh left behind a letter to his family. It said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be strong enough.” I wanted to write a different letter. Not to speak for Josh, or for any of the other victims of bullying. Just to speak up.
To Whom it Should Concern,
Lots of people are talking about bullying. They say that it is wrong, but it is normal. They say it is a rite of passage that teaches you to be strong and to stand up for yourself. Sometimes they are right.
So when people hear I am bullied because I am gay, and that it makes me want to go away, they think that I am weak. They say that I will get over it, and that everyone is bullied over something in life. They think that this is no different. But I think that they are wrong. I’ll tell you why.
Maybe you had braces. Maybe kids made fun of you at school, told you that you were ugly, and made you self-conscious that a mouth full of metal was the only thing people saw when they looked at you. I am sorry, because you should never have been made to feel like a freak. But I hope it helped to know that after a few years, those braces would come off. I hope it helped when you went to school for the first time without them, flashed your perfect pearly whites, and suddenly felt like a million bucks. I hope that made you realize that your difference was only a distraction - and that underneath, the real you has always been beautiful.
But when kids made fun of me for being gay, they were not talking about a trait I could put on and take off. Being gay is not a temporary eyesore that will one day go away; it is a part of me, like my blood and bones. So when I’m told that it is gross and that it makes me a monster, and that I am broken and should be fixed, I know that people will think all of these horrible things forever. I am stuck like this, so for the rest of my life it is all people will see. If I fail to cover up, the fact that I am gay will be the first thing people notice every time I talk and laugh and sing. I know that they will be disgusted when they look at me, and no one will see that underneath I am trying to show them my smile.
Maybe you wore glasses. Maybe kids called you “four eyes,” knocked them from your face, and shoved you to the playground. I am sorry, because you shouldn’t have gone through that. But I hope it helped when you went home to your mother. I hope it helped when you told her what happened, she bent the crooked frames back into place, and her gentle hand dusted the dirt from your skinned knee. I hope it made you feel better when she told you those kids were wrong to treat you that way. I hope she reminded you that you were loved – and that it was never okay for someone to hurt you.
But when kids called me “faggot” and shoved me against the hard steel lockers, I could not go home and tell my mother. That would be worse than the bruises they left. If I tell her what they called me, she will ask me if they are right. I will be embarrassed, and she will be embarrassed of me. Or maybe she will cry, because she is disappointed in me; maybe she will be angry, because she hates me. Maybe she will use her trembling hands to pack my bags and push me out the door. She might think those kids were right, and that I deserved this. So I cannot go to an adult for help or comfort - not a parent, not a teacher. Because everyone knows that it’s wrong to hurt someone because they wear glasses; but I know that lots of people, even grown-ups, think it’s okay to hurt someone because they’re gay.
Maybe you were overweight. Maybe kids teased you about the size of your clothes, left you out while they played together, or started cruel rumors behind your back. I am sorry, because you didn’t deserve that. But I hope it helped to know that one day, you would somehow fit in. Maybe your body would change, on its own or with your work. And if not, most people would grow up by the time you got to college or the workplace. They would eventually realize that it’s not okay to openly joke about your weight, disallow you from certain activities, or appraise your value as a person aloud and in front of others.
But when I think about my future, I do not believe that this torture will end. I do not see a better world waiting to welcome me, or any sign that people will one day grow kinder. I see leaders in churches saying I am evil, a sinner, and going to hell; and when they say this, people answer, “Amen.” I see leaders of my country spreading horrible lies about me (on television, right in front of me!) and debating whether I should be allowed the same rights as my neighbors; when they say no, people cheer. I do not see guarantees that one day I can live where I want, work where I want, and be with the person I love – in fact, I see people making laws to stop me from doing those things. Yes, I’ve been told, “it gets better.” But why should I believe that? From here, it looks like the bullies never go away. They get meaner. And this is my lot for life.
Would you want it?