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.