As an anti-bullying and LGBT activist, my story about being bullied in middle school because of my sexual orientation has been circulated throughout the nation and has been used as a catalyst to unify a force of passionate people strong enough to conquer multiple national campaigns.
Kids called me names and knocked my books out of my hands. One day in the hallway a few guys came up asking me why I even bothered to show my face there because no one wanted to go to school with a lesbian. They slammed my hand in my locker and broke my finger. I watched in tears as they ran away laughing. I felt so alone and I decided not to say anything because I didn't know what to do or who to talk to.
Although it was hard at the time, the connection people had with my experience, an experience all too familiar to many, allowed me to take a stand and make my voice heard on many issues I feel strongly about. As an avid member of the anti-bullying world I've seen the extensive efforts of parents, educators, students, legislators, doctors and activists to end bullying. Milestones have been made to end bullying but there is still much more that needs to be done.
Unfortunately, as I begin college, I haven't had my last experience with bullying. When most people think of bullying they think of physical brutality or mean girls spreading rumors -- both of which have happened to me. The reality is that bullying comes in many forms and sometimes happens when and where we least expect it.
The last place I would have expected to find bullying was inside the LGBT community. I've identified as a lesbian for years but recently I fell for a guy. This shattered my world. I wasn't sure what that meant for my identity or my place in the community that I love so much, that had welcomed me when I was bullied simply because of the gender of the person I liked. When I finally did tell a few of my friends, of course I did get accepting responses, but others were exactly what I was afraid of. One person told me I would never be happy because he was a man. Another person said that I was confused. That was something I expected to hear when I told people I liked girls but not when I liked a boy. The fear of being ostracized from the community I loved so much because of the bisexual label kept me from being honest about my feelings. I was bullied by my own community, by the people who I had been working with to achieve the same goals!
Seeing bullying in forms other than one would traditionally expect enforced the idea that the most effective way to eliminate bullying in our country is through a change in the attitudes of the people around us. Bullying still happens in college. It might take less blatant forms than breaking someone's finger, but students in college still experience feelings of isolation, humiliation and lack of acceptance from peers. In the workplace, adults are still talking behind each other's backs, and in more than a few businesses, understanding or promotion of diversity seems to be lacking. As a college student and someone entering the workforce soon, education and acceptance have, to me, stood that much more as two of the many solutions to our nation's bullying epidemic. Of course, education on the issue and teaching acceptance at a very young age is crucial moving forward in our fight against bullying.
Throughout my work in activism, my mentor taught me that one of the most honest and effective ways to create change is to simply be yourself and be proud of who you are. Share your story with others and listen to what they have to say because we have to engage everyone in every community to truly create the shift in culture needed to eliminate bullying.
This month is National Bullying Prevention Month! We should take the time to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments. We have come so far, but the road doesn't end here. We also need to look forward and realize that now, more than ever, is the time to go full speed ahead to tackle the nation's bullying epidemic. I know we have a long road ahead of us, but we will make things better because together we are the change.
This post is part of a series produced by The BULLY Project in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month. For more information on The BULLY Project, click here.