The recent outpouring of support for gay youth, largely instigated by the death of Tyler Clementi and extending upwards to the highest echelon of American political power, has been encouraging for those on the side of full social equality for the LGBT community. Naturally, the various parties encompassed in the "It Gets Better" campaign have diverse views and opinions (President Obama does not support gay marriage, to cite one example), but needless to say, this marks a certain turning point in acknowledgement of the persecution of the LGBT community emanating from "mainstream" culture. However, the President notwithstanding, one voice has been largely absent from this chorus of progress.
I am a heterosexual male with no personal experience being targeted by bullies for being "queer," a "fag," etc. Thus, my knowledge of childhood intolerance of perceived homosexuals is largely derived from spending virtually my entire life within the walls of schools, and mainly observing this contemptuous behavior from afar. Naturally, the overwhelming majority of the profoundly moving "It Gets Better" videos on YouTube have come from LGBT individuals, eager to offer support to persecuted young people of a similar sexual orientation. One would assume that messages from mature LGBT individuals would carry the most weight in the minds of their young counterparts, hungry for comfort emanating from a friendly source. However, I do not feel that those who identify as heterosexual should abstain from this endeavor of support. On the contrary, our voices are equally necessary.
As a young man, I have witnessed the transformation within my own relatively brief lifetime of 23 years, of societal perceptions, representations and acceptance of so-called "alternative lifestyles." Indeed, it's difficult to imagine any American President before Obama who would have been able to offer a similar message of encouragement to gay youth under similar circumstances. Politicians rarely stray from what they perceive as politically viable -- thus, Republican or Democrat, no previous President could have offered a similar message to gay youth because of the likelihood that it would not have sat well with the majority of their voters (or so their political advisors determined). This marks a fundamental break with the past and, though imperfect (see the President's aforementioned position on gay marriage), can only be seen as progressive change.
This change that I have been fortunate enough to witness has not been limited, of course, to American politics. Rather, on a very personal note, I have witnessed gay childhood friends, some of whom where targets of schoolyard abuse, who have grown up to lead successful, happy lives with straight friends and family members, all of whom see no fault in their sexual orientation. Thus, it's worth noting at this juncture that most of us, some of whom were perhaps even the instigators of this childhood ignorance, actually do grow up: many of us who have uttered "fag" or "queer" (perhaps in jest, but no less detrimental) or worse have grown out of this immaturity to recognize that of course there is nothing "wrong" or "abnormal" about an alternative lifestyle. We all emerge from the same schoolyard, so to speak. The majority of the ignoramuses who dole out the worst schoolyard abuse either "grow up" and recant their past intolerance, or don't, and lead angry and hollow lives that aren't worthy of discussion here. Simply put, I have gay friends, virtually everyone I know has gay friends, and in most circles of young people that I am aware of, the same is true. Being gay or bi or trans, etc. is no longer a barrier to acceptance in most social circles, and I am certain this trend will only intensify. The vast majority of us are actually growing up and, if we didn't realize it before, we are now recognizing how immoral and completely irrational gay prejudice is.
Thus, to any LGBT individuals facing any type of prejudice, I can offer with utter sincerity: it really does get better, and more critically, it's getting better. Though a shift in our vocabulary of perceived innocuous verbal abuse is paramount to our overcoming of lingering social prejudice (as I have argued previously), when the most powerful political figure in the world deems it "OK" with his electorate to call being gay "OK," the implication is clear. The barriers to full social equality for the LGBT community are many, and are needless to recount here. However, change is coming, and this writer can believe in that.
Zachary Stockill is a freelance journalist and graduate student from Ontario, Canada. He has worked with human rights organizations in India and Canada, and is particularly interested in minority rights, popular culture and postcolonial histories.
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