Today is a significant day for silence, youth, and our schools. Today, across the country schools will participate in a National Day of Silence to protest the homophobic bullying that is killing teenagers and honor those whose lives have been taken by the barbaric hands of hatred.
In less than two years there have been four brutal teenage deaths resulting from homophobic bullying. Just last week Carl Walker, an eleven year old in Springfield, Massachusetts , who never actually identified as gay, hung himself with an extension cord from the 3rd floor landing of his home. This was after his mother repeatedly implored his school to do something about the homophobic bullying he experienced. Last summer a transgendered teenager, Angie Zapata, was brutally murdered in Greeley, Colorado. Last February Eric Mohat, a 17-year old student from Ohio, who also never identified as gay, committed suicide after being repeatedly harassed with anti-gay epithets such as "fag" and "homo." His school went to trial last month as a lawsuit was filed by his parents, not because they want the school's money, but because they want to know why the school didn't respond to several requests for action. Also, last year, Lawrence King, a fifteen year old who identified as gay, was shot in the head twice in his English class. He died a few days later. His heart was donated the day after Valentine's day.
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network) and Harris Interactive recently conducted a study called "From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers." The study illustrates that 33% of teens report that students are frequently harassed because they are openly or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual. It also shows that LGBT students are three times as likely to say that they do not feel safe at school and 90% of LGBT students state that they have been harassed or assaulted.
Watch these homophobic teenagers in action:
The FBI shows hate crimes based on sexual orientation to be the third most prevalent type. Regardless, George Bush vetoed the Matthew Shepard Act when it landed on his desk in 2007. This legislation would have protected people from hate crimes on the basis of perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was tortured and left tied to a fence to die in 1998, along with 18 other states, still does not have legislation that prosecutes hate crimes towards LGBT people.
Change has been a pervasive concept in our country over the past two years. Barack Obama's presidential election, along with the dissolution of our economic institutions, are catalysts for significant change. We need to start applying this same principal of change to the institution of hatred entrenched in our culture. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, and social psychology pioneer Albert Bandura have both shown that aggression and hatred are learned behaviors. If a child is taught to hate and fear diversity, then the next place he or she expresses that hate is at school. Ten percent of all hate crimes occur at schools and colleges. If hate is learned, then it lies on the shoulders of our schools, church officials, parents, teachers, and communities to teach our young kids acceptance before they continue hurting each other, and before they become adults who will likely pass their hatred to the next generation.
Dissolving hatred in our society starts with each of us on an individual level. Whether we are straight, LGBT, black, white or all shades in between, if we want to heal hate among youth we must engage in a process of introspective exploration to reveal where we ourselves have held onto hatred, ignorance, fear, and anger. Amidst all this homophobic murder, and without dismissing accountability; even those of us who feel justified in our animosity towards those who hate, must forgive our judgments. Hate in any form is still hate and it contributes to its survival. In the story of the crucifixion (whether myth or fact) Jesus says himself, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."
I believe a direct result of my own marginalization has been the choice I have made to look inward and heal patterns of my own judgment and fear of those who choose to hate. My experience as a gay man in this society has generated in me a depth of compassion and empathy. This facilitates my understanding that people who choose to hate in the name of "their" God are simply immersed in a human experience that is built on irrationality, fear, hatred and ego; but for them, truthful, nonetheless. I choose to remember that those who choose to attack are attacking an illusion they have crafted in their own minds. Even those who have died in the name of self-love and expression have not truly died, because love that has known itself as long as man has existed cannot be destroyed. I cannot say when, but I have faith that one day those who attack in the name of "their" god will discover that they are also attacking themselves.
When we heal the hatred and anger that lies in our own hearts and come to stand steadfast in our loving we become a beacon of light for the youth of our world. Youth who deserve to live long lives fully embraced, nurtured, and loved in the truth of who they are, regardless of seeming differences among sexual orientation, race, or gender.
On this day when our youth silently protest violent homophobia, and honor those whose have been murdered or committed suicide, I implore you to take a few silent moments to begin to ask the tough questions: "Where in my own life do I harbor hatred, fear, anger, and what steps can I take to begin to resolve it?"