Friday, October 1, 2010

I love you

"Please believe... I am me, and I don't know who you are, but I love you...
I don't know who you are. Or whether you're a man or a woman. I may never see you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope that you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again." Valerie's Letter

Six teenagers have killed themselves.  Six families have been shattered.  Six unique and beautiful people will never laugh again or cry again or go on a picnic or fall in love.  These lives have been lost due to our own cruelty as a society.  We are a society who would rather laugh uncomfortably at a mean-spirited joke than call out the comedian.  We give lip service to tolerance when we must start not only teaching kindness but begin living by it.  Many proclaim us to be a Christian nation, but I have a hard time seeing that these days.  Christ did not judge.  He did not persecute.  He did not cruelly mock those around him.  Christ offered his hand to the helpless.  He reached out to the weak, the hungry, the outcast.  He dined with tax collectors, and he communed with lepers.

Six children are dead as the result of bullying for their sexuality.

I'm not going to debate whether homosexuality is a choice or a lifestyle or genetic, because it does not matter.  A gay person is just a person - another flawed, distinct, and beautiful human being. Every person on this planet is seeking one thing: acceptance - true, loving acceptance.  We all want to be allowed our own thoughts, opinions, preferences, beliefs, and feelings.  We all want to be accepted just as we are.  We encourage our children and students to be themselves, yet too often we try to model them to our ideals.  We start slowly and innocently:
"You can't wear a tiger costume to the grocery store."
"I don't want you to read that book."
"Adam's parents are too different.  I don't want you hanging out with him."
And before we know it, we've told them who to be.

Now you may be a wonderful, loving parent, but do you ever fall victim to dictating your child's life rather than encouraging his individuality?  I know I have.  It's so much easier sometimes after all.  It's a slippery slope though.  Do your children know- really know - that you love them no matter what?  That you will stand by them always?  That you accept them?  Now do they see you modeling that acceptance and love toward others?  Do you make racist or sexist jokes?  Do you use the term "that's gay?"  Because if so you are sending them a very mixed message.  You are telling them there is a formula for love and acceptance.  If they don't meet the requirements, you might not love them.  If others don't meet the requirements, they should not love them.

We are the first models of love for our children.  We show them how to do it.  That's a big responsibility, but our responsibility doesn't end there.  We have to send them into a world that judges and persecutes and hates no matter how well we've done.  But here's the big secret: within each of us lies the ability to make positive and lasting change in the world.  We can teach our kids that its more important to have integrity than be popular.  We can form friendships that are real.  We can speak up when someone makes a hateful joke.  We can stand up to censors and bullies and hate.  We can fight intolerance with loving acceptance.  We can offer an ear to everyone's stories.  We can love each other.

We have to stop paying lip service to peace and forgiveness and acceptance and start living by it.  We have to teach our children it.

On September 22, Tyler Clementi jumped from a bridge.  He was 18.  His roommate had taped him kissing another boy and broadcast it on the internet with the help of a friend.  I have read the interviews with his heartbroken parents.  I'm sure they loved their son and I'm sure they accepted him.  And like all of us they sent their child into a world that can be cruel and hoped for the best and the world broke him.  Two people made the video.  More watched.  The girl who let his roommate use her computer could have said no.  She could have walked into the other room and told Clementi what was going on.  She could have been his friend.  But like too many people she wanted acceptance, maybe even love, and she wanted it so much she was willing to refuse it to another.  She'll have to live with that, and I cannot imagine that burden.

Raymond Chase, 19, hung himself this week in his dorm room for unknown reasons.  He was an openly gay sophomore majoring in Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales.

Harrison Chase Brown's obituary says he joyfully signed the organ donation consent on his driver's permit, and his family gratefully honored this request.  He was 15.

Seth Walsh, 13, died after attempting to hang himself.  He'd been bullied for being gay for years.  Police who interviewed the bullies determined their actions did not constitute a crime:  "Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears," Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi Police Chief, said. "They had never expected an outcome such as this."

Asher Brown, 13, shot himself the morning he came out of the closet to his stepfather.  He'd been bullied at school, picked on, other students performed mock gay acts on him in class.  His parents repeatedly asked the school for help, the school district denies it.  His parents asked funeral attendees to wear shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops which is what "Asher would have wanted."

Billy Lucas, 15, hung himself in his family's barn after repeated bullying.  Several friends said bullies repeatedly told him "to go kill himself."  The day before his death, someone pulled his chair in the cafeteria and told him to go hang himself.  He loved horses.

Caleb Nolt, 14, had a twin brother.  He liked to bake chocolate chip cookies.  He committed suicide on September 30.

We need to stop telling children that it's wrong to be confused.  We need to stop hateful speech about gays in our churches and communities.  We have to stop the idea that it's ok to allow prejudicial programs like "Don't Ask Don't Tell" to continue.  We need to stop signing our kids up for anti-gay organizations like Boy Scouts of America.  We need to call our kids' friends out when they toss around jibes like "that's gay."  Because these seemingly innocuous, insignificant moments are anything but that.  They send a clear message that it's ok to treat gays differently, and where does that stop - a child who bullies an effeminate classmate?  a child who stands by and watches?  a child who endures the taunting?

Today's children have little escape from the world at large.  There are facebook pages and twitter and cell phones.  With this constant connection, it can be easy to get lost.  We need to start forming real connections with each other.  We need to show our children how.  We can't use the excuse of kids being kids.  We can't ignore our co-worker who tells the hateful jokes.  We can't perpetuate the idea that we have no influence over the world.  We must demand better of our schools.  We must teach love through our actions to our children, to our friends and family, to our co-workers, to our acquaintances, even to total strangers.

Dan Savage reached out this week to gay youth with this message.  I hope it gets across, but even more I hope that someday gay teens don't have to wait for it to get better. You can visit his project: It Gets Better

Spread love, readers.


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

That was one of the most beautiful articles I have ever read, and had the pleasure to read. You inspire so many with your loving words, your unconditional loving words. You absolutely brought tears to my eyes, and I hope that others take the time to read this, it is life changing. It's amazing how most try to envision or dictate Jesus and who he was. I always think to myself.... what would Jesus do? I already know the answer. He would open up his arms and say, "I love you." In the scheme of things- life, love is all that matters.

- Melissa

Annie said... [Reply to comment]

This was a very moving post! Oh wow. You are right - it does not matter whether I believe homosexuality is moral or not. What matters is how we treat those around us who have lives that are different from ours. Bullying goes so much farther than homosexuality - I was bullied so badly in 6th grade that I became anti social and hateful. If it wasn't for my loving, accepting church family I don't know where I would be.

I learned how to love everyone - even people that lived lives that made me uncomfortable. My best friend was a partier and very promiscuous. But I did not bully her for it or sever our friendship.

Thank you for this gentle reminder to love and not hate.

Krystina said... [Reply to comment]

Yes. Absolutely yes, to everything you've said. And this doesn't just go for parents either. Every one of us, as members of our human community, has a responsibility to show every individual that he or she is worthy of love and respect, despite our million petty differences.

When I was in high school, it was the issue of fair treatment for gay students that first motivated me to think outside myself and get involved. I honestly thought we'd come a long way since then. I thought homophobia was on its way out.

Any one of those kids could have been one of my friends, or a member of my family. We have failed this generation by EVER allowing the word 'gay' to be used as an insult.

ChristianitySurvivor said... [Reply to comment]

Once again I wake up to the reality of how cruel the world can be. As a gay man, I too have experienced discrimination and bias against me. I was taught to hate myself, become self-loathing and learned shame and embarrassment for who I am by family, friends and so called Christians. No matter how hard I tried it was not possible to be something I am not. I can empathize with Tyler, and know the pain and suffering he felt. Then on that special day when his soul connected to another human being is shown streaming on the Internet. A private personal moment when who he was and what love was to him was a celebration of life itself. For a brief moment he was safe in the arms of another of his kind. It all ended tragically and unexpectedly at the hands of two of his classmates.

To Tyler's parents, I reach out and say how sorry I am that you lost your son and prayer that he finds the peace he was not granted on earth. We are all to blame for this crime, those who did, and those who did nothing. Will humanity ever really be humane?
God Bless Tyler and bring him eternal peace, love and acceptance.

Annie Fox said... [Reply to comment]

Brava, Jenn. Thank you for writing this eloquent call to action. Fortunately there are people like you and like the thousands of GBLT adults who are now reaching out to gay teens through the It Gets Better Project.
Love, compassion, empathy, understanding. We already have everything we need to change the Culture of Cruelty. Don't need anyone's permission to get started.

Jenn said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you everyone. I really appreciate it.

@ChristianitySurvivor...sending lots of love your way

@Annie Fox - you're absolutely right, each of us can choose to change the Culture of Cruelty in ourselves, our homes, and our communities

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

80 people commit suicide in the US a DAY, not including ATTEMPTS. Since when did this become such a media circus? Not to mention a lot of these - they don't know the actual reasons they committed suicide. They just know they were gay. Media circus indeed and hey, if we pretend to care - if we post some photos - and FEEL like we are doing something, then our work here is done. BUT to actually do something. to decrease that 80 per day rate, will that happen? Probably not. Suicide reasons go deep. I have fought with it all my life and fact is if you are set on killing yourself - YOU WILL do it. Nothing can stop you. It's your mindset, no one elses.

Not to say bullying, discrimination, etc is not a problem in this country. A HUGE problem but the real problem here is PARENTING. The parents need to be there for their children, they need to address these issues. They need to be role models and guide their kids but SO FEW DO. Most call their children "accidents" and regret not having an abortion. This country is a DISASTER. You can't be surprised when these thing happens considering our shitty values.

Jenn said... [Reply to comment]

anonymous - it's not just parents, everyone has a responsibility to reach out in kindness and love and to be more accepting and gentle.

No person is an accident. No one should feel isolated or trapped. If you do, I am very sorry and I wish I could offer you my shoulder. I love you.

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