Almost everyone my age (late Gen-Xers who aren't lying about their age... yet) has a story of homophobia that took place at their high school. This is mine, or, rather, it is my friend Kevin's.
Kevin and I grew up in a small town that was short on diversity and long on pick-up trucks. Kevin started being bullied for "suspicion of gayness" when he was in grade school. During the first week of high school, in the dreaded shower after gym class, some guys said they saw Kevin get an erection while watching the other boys.
It went through the school like crazy... but he and I never talked about it. No one did with him.
He was tormented with this story for the entirety of his high school career. He was taunted and teased, his car vandalized, and in our junior year it got worse.
For homecoming our school had this truly awful tradition. We would have a pep assembly with the whole school in attendance, and the juniors would put on a skit making fun of the seniors, and the seniors would do one about the juniors. For the seniors' skit they had someone dressed in a white t-shirt with the words "I have a stiffy" boldy written with heavy black marker. Everyone knew that was supposed to be Kevin. The guy in the shirt walked around the stage and said some of the most horrible and stereotypical things that could be said about gay men. Everyone thought it was hilarious... well, nearly everyone.
After the assembly I found Kevin and asked only one question: Are you OK? He shook his head at me and walked off.
The next year when homecoming rolled around, the juniors portrayed Kevin as a gay male prostitute and showed him propositioning the other men onstage. It was met with the same laughter as the year before.
When the senior girls did their part of the skit, they made fun of the size of a junior girl's acne and breasts. A teacher jumped up immediately to stop it, and the skits were then cancelled. I guess that was just taking it too far.
Kevin and I recently met up for a drink after not seeing each other for years. He is now fully out of the closet and living openly as a gay man. I told him about the writing I was doing, and the subject of those torturous skits came up. What amazes us as adults (and not in that good way) is how they were met with utter silence. The boys involved never even got a mild talking to, much less disciplined for their outrageously homophobic behavior. The school administration never talked about, nor did a single one of our teachers. And Kevin never said a word about it to his parents.
Kevin told me that as a kid, it never even occurred to him that anyone would say anything on his behalf. Being gay was not something anyone in our town talked about... at least not in any way but hatefully.
Then Kevin really shocked me. The event, the one that started all the talk our freshman year, never happened. He told me the locker room at our high school was the most unsexy place he had ever been. It smelled, and showering with everyone was just plain weird, and there was nothing erotic about it. So those four years of torment were based on a lie.
I wish I could say this kind of thing doesn't happen anymore, but I don't think that's true. And while I can't go back and change the past, I can work to change the future for my kids. I can start that change by making sure my children hear about LGBT people in a positive light, and making sure they know we support equal rights and equal marriage. I can teach them that bullying should never be silently endured, no matter what the "reason" may be.
I can also be a voice at my child's school, and let it be known that homophobic bullying will not be tolerated by us or the other like-minded parents.
Because it seems to me like silence is one of the big problems here. If people stay silent, it is easier to brush events like the ones in Kevin's life under the carpet. I make the promise to my kids, their friends and mine to be loud.
The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and life-affirming resources, including its nationwide, 24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone. For more information or to talk to someone, visit their website or call 866-488-7386.