On Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life at the age of 14. Earlier this year he had participated in the "It Gets Better" Project, but just a week before the suicide, he wrote, "I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. ... What do I have to do so people will listen to me?" It didn't get better for Jamey, and he's not alone. While the focus of many anti-bullying campaigns has been to empower LGBTQ youth and create community around them, I think it's time for all Americans to make it better.
In my early teens, much before I became comfortable with my gender and sexual identity, I found myself being bullied. Because I was young, confused and vulnerable, I found it very difficult to defend myself, so I know the important role courageous peers and responsible adults play when facing down bullies. When we are reminded of the vicious behavior of some children toward those considered different, we "different" adults see it as our responsibility to respond with education, therapy, hotlines and activism. But what is needed to create real change is real action on the part of our heterosexual citizenry. After all, these are your children who are driving other kids to suicide. Where are they learning that it's "OK to hate"? In part, young people are learning that it's "OK to hate" by pushing boundaries and getting away with it. Isn't that what young people do, test boundaries? Why are they forbidden to chew gum in class yet allowed to torture their LGBTQ classmates? We've come to an understanding that smoking should not be allowed and have given teachers the moral authority to stop it; we've made it illegal to sell cigarettes to minors because we recognize that it's harmful to their health. But the number of deaths from LGBTQ bullying is mounting. When will the deaths of these children be recognized as an imperative to make change now?
Parents and educators are allowed, sometimes even forced, to be passive in the face of shameful and outrageous behavior on the part of their charges because they have had their own hands tied by legislators and a "moral" minority who claim to represent "our" values. But remember, the civil rights movement would not have been nearly as effective if white people hadn't joined with African Americans to create the necessary changes to end institutionalized racism. It should not only be the responsibility of the LGBTQ community to protect certain youth. It is time for you to stand up for and be accountable to all America's children -- not only LGBTQ children but all the children who are forced to live in a world of unnecessary cruelty, and also, maybe even more importantly, the bullies who are being allowed to destroy their own chances at happiness by passive adult bystanders. It is time for all Americans to come together and end homophobic and transphobic language, and to take action to protect the childhoods of all of our children, not just some.
Justin Vivian Bond
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more