When you hear the word war, does your mind scroll to the Middle East? Do you think of your favorite World War II movie? Well, wake up.
They’re not the only wars – those are just the ones you hear about, the ones abroad. Realize we’re fighting a war on the homefront – a war not unlike all the others, where fear of Other leads to bullying, premeditated attack, and death. Innocent civilians are killed in the name of hate, in the name of homophobic violence. Tyler Clementi (18), Billy Lucas (15), Asher Brown (13), Seth Walsh (13), and most recently Raymond Chase (19) are among the recent civilians who’ve perished. Think about the ages for a moment; what did they do to deserve the bullying, the name-calling, and the daily torture? These kids, as well as other kids who aren’t on the news – those who are persecuted for their gender, sexuality, appearance, or otherwise, are absolutely no different than your sister, your son, or yourself. Would you want to be treated this way? Your sex life published online by your college roommates, your children going to school only to be beat up and victimized and led to kill themselves because they’re “fags?”
So what to do? The time for platitudes is over – we are obviously all involved in allowing this to continue, and we’re all responsible for creating awareness and coming up with solutions – this is a war that won’t be waged with weapons. No, it won’t. It will be waged with WORDS, compassion, and intelligence – concepts that are sorely lacking in our school systems and in American homes. This war on hatred and homophobia will be won by people like you and me who will stand up for people like Tyler and Seth. If you think you’re inconsequential, or your voice is alone, or you have no connection to homophobia because “you’re not gay/hurting/scared/depressed” or “don’t know anyone who is” – you’re wrong.
Start by talking with your siblings, kids, or friends’ kids about their experiences. Really listen, and validate their feelings. Don’t brush them off as “just teens” or going through a phase. Maybe the teen you know isn’t bullied because of her sexuality, but because of her weight or her mind, or just the very fact that she exists. Maybe your child is crying out to you but you only see the anger, withdrawal, and indifference in his face. Look deeper. Let them know that things will get better – and they need to live to see that day, the day when they have friends and partners that love them for who they are. Give them hope!
Don’t stop there – influencing the minds of vulnerable teens is crucial, but it won’t fix the greater problem: keep an eye out for teens that are externalizing hateful feelings and behaviors. Don’t let it get that far; notify teachers, parents, or friends. They too need guidance and awareness of the importance of human life. If anything, they need some anger management classes, some therapy, or other more serious rehabilitation. Perhaps they too are afraid of their true sexuality, or are battling a problem at home.
Below you’ll find a candid video clip made by Dan Savage that really moved me despite my aggravation and heartbreak at the terrible suicides. Savage and his partner Terry talk about their experiences with bullying and homophobia. Also check out the It Gets Better Project on YouTube for more similar clips! If you’re a teen who needs help, you can find it! There are GLBTQ centers all around the country, you can check out The Trevor Project and Angels and Doves for more info, and reach the US Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.