Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tragic Anniversary

A year ago this month, at least six American teenagers committed suicide upon returning to school, either because they were gay, or suspected of being gay, or just different.  The bullying they endured was so bad, they saw no way out of the torment except to end their lives.

The six teenagers were:
Tyler Clementi, 18, from New Jersey
Seth Walsh, 13, from California
Asher Brown, 13, from Texas
Billy Lucas, 15, from Indiana
Raymond Chase, 19, from Rhode Island
Justin Aaberg, 15, from Minnesota

These young people have been on my mind a lot lately, because I know what they went through in early September, the new school year looming.  Summer vacation meant freedom, not only from the pressures of studies, grades, and expectations, but also from those who teased, taunted, and ridiculed.  July and August were months when you could exhale, be yourself, while spending more time around supportive family members and less around those those who would do you harm.        

Back in the 1970s, I lived in dread of September.  While I was excited about the fresh start to another school year, anxious to see my favorite teachers and to be taught some of my favorite subjects, I was scared to death about being in the same area as those who picked on me.  I worried about what they'd do after not seeing me for several months--what new names they'd call me, what new things they'd do to abuse me, and how I'd be humiliated in front of everyone.

I prayed they had grown up over the summer and finally felt guilty for how badly they'd treated me; that they'd leave me alone so I could focus on my studies and earning the best grades possible.  But that didn't happen.  I never knew what I'd be subjected to--when they'd walk by my locker and shove me in it; when I'd turn a corner and they'd yell the word "faggot" at me; when we'd cross in the hallway, and they'd punch or trip me, bursting into hysterics when I slammed into the wall or fell on the floor.  

Oh, yes, I know firsthand what Tyler, Seth, Asher, Billy, Raymond, and Justin when through. And it hurts to the core of my being when I think about the young people in towns and cities across North America, and elsewhere in the world, dreading going back to school in just a few days for the same reasons I did.  School is for learning and excellence and personal growth--not for verbal and physical abuse; crushing fragile spirits; or losing the will to live because the pain is so overwhelming.  

In response to the tragic loss of young lives last September, columnist and writer Dan Savage and his life partner, Terry Miller, started the It Gets Better Project.  Over the past eleven months, 25,000 videos, from people all over the world, in all walks of life, were uploaded to the It Gets Better website--each with the intention of encouraging those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexual orientation to hang in there, no matter how bad the bullying gets, no matter how awful they're made to feel about themselves, because it truly gets better.

And so it does.  If you have any doubt, I encourage you read some of the posts I've written on this blog over the past two and a half years, where I describe:

  • how tough my school life was, growing up in the 1960s and '70s;
  • knowing I was different from others but not understanding how;
  • feeling alone, lonely, and isolated;
  • enduring verbal and physical teasing and bullying at school;
  • graduating in 1977 with zero sense of self-worth;
  • struggling through my 20s to figure out who I was, to accept my homosexuality, and to come out;
  • learning to be a young, gay man on my own terms;
  • trying to meet someone who would love me for who I was and who I could love back; and
  • meeting Chris, building a live together, and celebrating our nineteenth anniversary this past June.    

Most of all, I want you to know it gets better because you can learn to love yourself.  Despite all the negative things you feel about who you are right now--that you're worthless, that you'll never amount to anything, that you're evil and immoral because you're gay, that no one will ever love you, that your life will never get better--I'm here to say you're wrong.  You are so wrong.  I felt all of these same things at one time or another, and look where I'm at now.  

Today, I write this blog with the intention of helping people just like you to learn to accept their sexual orientation and to love themselves.  Since January of this year, I've written dozens and dozens of posts about every aspect of realizing how important and precious and worthwhile you are, and how to take those first steps toward loving you just the way you are.  You can do this. If I could, feeling about myself the way I did, so can you.  Please take a look at what I've written, and start your journey today.  

To see the life-affirming videos of the It Gets Better Project, please click here.

If you need to talk to someone, and you're in Canada, please contact Kids Help Phone here or at 1-800-668-6868.

If you're in the United States, please contact the Trevor Project here or at 1-866-488-7386.

If you live elsewhere in the world, please check out the resources available in your area.

And always remember, I'm here for you.  Send me an email by clicking on Send Mail at the top right hand side of my blog.  I will respond and help in any way I can.  You are not alone.

No one deserves to die because he or she is gay.  Please reach out and talk to someone.  People truly care about what happens to you.  I care about what happens to you.

It really does get better.  I promise.   


  1. Reading your blog has really opened my eyes about gay people and their relationships. I just turned 18 this year and I am a straight girl. I have always wondered why people around me seem to be against gay society, they always say gay people are this and that, well, shortly nothing good. But since young when my family found out my uncle is gay and he left home, I have determined to believe, gay people are the same as others. Why was I forbidden to contact my uncle? The man who took me out to play when others were too busy to notice me. Even now I still don't now where he is.
    When I entered high school two years ago, I thought youngsters now a days would be more open minded, guess I was wrong. Some of my friends hate gay people, just because their parents think gay people are sick. I want my friends to think like me, be open minded, but it seems so hard. Why are some people so hard headed? Even though I think they are wrong, and want them to be open minded, is it OK for me to try? Or would it be wrong? I mean, people are free to believe in what ever they want, right? So should I just let them be, let them believe in what they want to?

  2. My sincere thanks, Tina, for leaving such a great comment. In so few words, you said so much. In fact, I'd like to use your comment as the basis for an entire post, because you've given me so much to work with. I hope you'll check back within the next several days for my response.

    On behalf of all gay and lesbian people, thank you for being the open-minded young woman you are. You give us hope the world might just change for the better where gay people are concerned. You are a wonderful example for your friends and people your age. Never forget that.

    Thanks again, and please be sure to check back for my response to your comment.

  3. I'm glad that my comment gave you stuff to work on. I am going to stay tuned and check back for your response. Thank you :))

    Wish you and Chris the best luck!

  4. Young people like you make me feel like there is tremendous amount of hope. Sometimes it is quite hard to hear people using “pede” (“faggot”) about bad situations or unwanted people. Sadly it is inevitable. That some people find being gay the worst thing and would literally eliminate me to protect themselves and their loved ones from my bad influence. They form groups, plan meetings, etc. For example, a few years ago many people marched on the streets of my current hometown to protect marriage from gay people, there was also a meeting and volunteers with rainbow-colored umbrellas who gathered signatures to protect marriage from other forms of commitment. And then there are people like you, Tina, who support us. For me, it is heart-worming to think that there are supporters among straight people. I have lived over 20 years with myself, about 10 years knowing I am gay, and I still don't comprehend what being gay means. I think that one has to be emotionally extremely smart to support someone who is different!
    Sometimes I think that maybe I expect too much from other people. Maybe accepting another person for their orientation is as good as it can get. I can't think that everyone will stop hating me and say “Your gay and I love it.” More realistic solution is that many people will say “I don't understand why you like to spend your life with a man, but I respect you.”
    I am a person who is happy when everybody likes me. I remember that from school. I tried to please everyone... and I can say, it is a hard work. Putting up a show and not being myself is energy demanding.
    I think that when I would be truly myself, about two people would love me completely. But on a daily basis, I have to live with many other people. Some of them would kill me instantly, if the would know I like dudes. Some of them would say “Your sick.” What it all comes down to, is that all those negative and positive aspects balance out. I can't eat chocolate all the time, I also need to eat things I don't like that much, to understand how marvelous chocolate truly is!

  5. Dear elevencats,
    reading your comment really makes me want to cry, because it reminds me of my uncle. To be a straight girl, even I have constant struggle through life, also trying to make people like me and at the same time try to be open about my feelings towards other people and tell my own aspect of things. Of course by trying to make people like me, it is hard for me to try to defend my points of views. But I have started to learn, that if people around me don't want to listen to my opinions, there is no reason for me to hang around with them, because clearly they don't respect me enough to take me even half seriously.
    I feel really sad, because it must be extremely hard to struggle through life as a gay/lesbian person in this new age society where gay-hating and bashing still occurs. I mean if life is even hard for me, how could I possible understand what you or other gay society's members have to go through?
    What ever other people say, I won't give up on my opinion about gay people. Everybody are humans just like me or anybody else, and no one has a right to bash anybody anywhere. I'm sure there are others like me who wont sink so low to offend others just because they are gay or from a different nationality, I'm positive about it.

    elevencats: Your gay and I love it. I hope someday in the future all the gay hating and other racisms would end, and people could be comfortable as who they are. Wish you all the best now and in the future too! :))

  6. @Tina: Today, I expect to publish the post I said I'd write as a result of being inspired by your first comment. I hope you'll check it out. Thanks for being so patient.

    @elevencats: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy school schedule to read my recent posts and to leave a comment. I really appreciate it.

    And thanks for responding to Tina's comment. Yes, Tina is a special young lady. She is what we wish all young people were today--open in mind and spirit.

    While I want the beautiful exchange between you and Tina to stand on its own, I'd like to make a few comments related to what you wrote:

    1. You wrote, "I have lived over twenty years myself, ten knowing I'm gay, and I still don't comprehend what being gay means." To which I respond, I've lived almost fifty-two years, and I'm only now beginning to understand what being gay means, and how best to work with the reality of it in my life.

    I suspect it's something we will come to terms with, in one way or another, until we're put in the ground. But what has helped me most is writing this blog, sharing my thoughts with the world, and receiving comments from readers like you. As the tagline to my blog suggests, together, we will lift the experience of being understanding ourselves and each other better.

    2. If I may be so bold, I have to let you know we are not here on earth to make everyone like us. I spent decades trying to do that, too. Sometimes, I succeeded; most times, I didn't. You're right, it takes too much energy to do that. Now, I understand I'm not here to be liked, I'm here to make a difference. Some people will like and respect me for that, and others won't. That's the way it goes.

    And, by the way, like Tina says, you're gay and I like it.

    All the best this school year. As always, it's great to hear from you.

    @Tina#2: Thanks for your wonderful exchange with elevencats.

    It might surprise you to learn elevencats lives in Estonia, and, as I've gotten to know him over the past nine months through his comments, I've learned he's an incredible young man with so much to offer the world and to share with a same-sex partner. He's a sweet human being, made all the sweeter because he's sensitive and intelligent...and, yes, gay. I hope my blog can in some small way make his journey as a young gay man a little better and a little easier.

    What pleases me so much about your comments is how you've opened yourself up to learn about, and to better understand, gay people--unlike so many others. We are not the sick freaks some people think we are. First and foremost, we are human beings, and the fact that your spirit has embraced us says so much about you and the hope we should all have for a better future together.

    Many thanks for taking the time to visit my blog and for your compassionate and understanding comment. I hope you'll stop by often.