With bullying and teen suicides continually in the spotlight, I was honored to have been asked to write a preface for a new anthology, Letters to My Bully, which examines this topic in great depth. My own letter to my bully was incredibly difficult to write, as was the video to make, as it took me back to those difficult days of high school when I was nervous just to walk across campus. How someone deals with such experiences can shape his or her adulthood, for better or worse. I asked Letters to My Bully editor Azaan Kamau if she would be willing to share her inspiration for the collection, as well as her views on other issues the LGBT community is facing, and I am grateful that she took the time to talk.
It was your vision that led to the creation of this anthology, Letters to My Bully. What inspired you to compile people's stories?
Back in October 2010 I wrote and published a book called Got Homophobia. I was so outraged by the staggering numbers of youth who felt they had no choice but to commit suicide, and I felt it was time for us to start the healing process. As adults we subconsciously carry our childhood baggage into adulthood, and that baggage shapes us. Letters to My Bully was born of necessity to heal the bullied, addressing the issue head-on instead of sweeping it under the rug. I wanted to send the message that you can survive this, that there are other options besides suicide.
Were you yourself the victim of bullying?
Yes, and I share some of those experienced in the book's introduction. What saved me was a small handful of adults and educators that truly cared about my life and my future. It only takes one person to stand up for a child's welfare. Just one person can make all the difference.
What surprised you about putting together Letters to My Bully? Did you learn anything about yourself as a result?
The biggest surprise was the sheer number who have experienced bullying or harassment. All of the authors in the book shared certain common experiences or emotions in one way or another. No matter how different we each may seem to be, or whether LGBT or heterosexual, we all experience the same hurt and fears and require the same sustenance. We want acceptance, love, and the right to just be.
Tell me about some of the stories within the book. Which ones really resonated with you?
Many of the stories and essays touched me. I absolutely loved your preface, as well as contributions by Rebecca Raymer, Dr. Monica Anderson, Tom Rastrelli, Gary Dixon, Katrina, Shannon Pacaoan, among others. I love the 9- and 10-year-old Henderson sisters, who refused to allow themselves to be defined by their disabilities. And Robert LaSardo, who is an award-winning actor, wrote a foreword which I cried while reading.
Who are some of your other contributors?
Well, Jessica Knapp, Kevin McLellan, Aser Peleg, Tammy L.R. Young, Christopher Soden, Amy LaCoe, Jazar F. Kahr, Ona Marae, and many others. I love what these authors shared, and I admire their courage to help change the landscape of bullying for good.
What's your take on the efforts made thus far to try to end bullying, such as the "It Gets Better" campaign and the Trevor Project?
I think both campaigns are exceptional. With the Trevor Project, crisis intervention and prevention is paramount. And the "It Gets Better" campaign has created a massive movement, and that visibility is essential in reaching people who are in crisis.
Do you think there are other things that could be done to help our LGBT youth?
The first thing is, our youth need acceptance, love, and to be shown consistently that they have something to live for. They, like any child, need positive reinforcement. However, I truly feel all of it starts with the parents. From the parents, it should trickle down to educators, administrators, and even the clergy. They all need to be held accountable in keeping youth safe and to address a bully's behavior.
Aside from bullying, what do you see as the biggest issues that the LGBT community faces?
Civil rights, from hospital visitation to the right to get married to the right to file our taxes together... In some states we can't adopt children.
How do those compare with issues that communities of color face?
Some of the communities of color are quite marginalized and even treated as the "other." Based on my own experiences, I feel that there is massive health-care inequality and also socioeconomic disparities. I feel that access to resources and information is also an issue.
One of your contributors is transgender. Do you think that bullying issues for transgender people are different from those of lesbians and gays? If so, how?
I think that the trans communities are quite unique. They face so many issues and prejudice and have an incredibly high suicide rate. I mean, there is a Transgender Day of Remembrance that honors people who were murdered, simply due to prejudice! It's so disheartening.
Do you think trans youth face other issues that may lead to suicide?
Many trans people have been inaccurately diagnosed with gender dissociative disorder, instead of being allowed to be, dress, and act as they want. While some are flourishing, many of our youth are faced with being disowned, homelessness, depression, STDs, addiction... and many times these can result in suicide attempts.
You come to publishing with an interesting background: You're a poet, photographer, and artist, and you've been a magazine editor, a creative director, and more. Given all of these different facets, how do you view or define yourself?
I think I'm just allowing Spirit to use me as a tool. Spirit is speaking through me, as me. I guess I define myself as a messenger. Yes, I'm just the messenger...! [Laughs.]
What do you hope people take away from reading Letters to My Bully?
I want people of all ages to know that they are not alone in this battle. If you feel you can't cope, reach out to someone. Suicide is not the answer. I hope readers are enriched with an understanding of how deep the wounds can be. Our amazing editor, Ifalade Ta'Shia Asanti, and our diverse array of authors have worked hard, hoping to communicate to the world that bullying is not just an LGBT thing. It's about people. We are all human beings and need to be treated with decency and respect.
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