A family has lost their son because other families teach their children that being gay is bad. This week, I was saddened to learn about the death of a young boy named Jamey Rodemeyer who was driven to suicide by bullies at his school who taunted him with gay slurs. He was 14 years old. It is disheartening to me that this happens in the 21st century.
I know a lot of people who were bullied and taunted in school. One boy who wore hearing aids who was tormented by his classmates. Other kids were teased for wearing glasses. One girl in my class was bullied mercilessly by other girls because she had an accent and an unusual first name. I was bullied by a girl in elementary school and I have no idea why she chose me as a target to physically kick, hit and humiliate. I was teased for wearing glasses and for developing earlier than other girls my age.
Some kids were called “queer” and “fag” but no one ever really seemed to know what that meant. We just knew it meant something negative. Later, those words would sting when I realized that the slurs they were hurling resonated with me because I knew I really was one of those despised people. I kept it to myself for a long time. I knew I was different from most of my friends, but I never understood exactly why. In the late 70’s we didn’t have the resources and support groups that young people have today. We kept ourselves hidden. We denied. We pretended. We tried to fit in. We tried to change.
When I was a senior in high school, a boy I knew killed himself with carbon monoxide because he was gay and he felt that his family would be better off without him. Many years later, I met one of his teachers who was also gay. She asked me about him. She told me that she had always wanted to reach out to him because she knew he struggled, but, as a teacher, she could not. Perhaps, if she had been allowed to say, “You’re not alone and things get better,” he would still be alive.
Like many people I’ve met in my life, I turned to the church. I thought I could change. I thought I could become “normal” like all my Christian brothers and sisters who seemed to be marrying at an alarming rate. I waited. I prayed. I went to counseling. I was bullied for wearing glasses in grade school, but the most perturbation of my life came from the church members that I had regarded as closer than family. And it was not kids who were the bullies. It was the adults. I was badgered by constant questioning, closely watched by members who would report any “suspicous” behavior to the elders, and vexed about my lack of desire to change. They told me it would be best if I was not around other women in the church and one time I was “counseled” for casually touching another woman while I was talking to her. Change was not coming fast enough and I became very depressed and had thoughts of suicide. Being gay was one of the worst things I could be. Other Christians would say, “it’s all right if you’re gay, you just can’t act on it.” This made no sense to me at all. I thought it was some kind of cruel joke. Who were these arrogant self-righteous people who could declare that? There was absolutely no biblical basis for that. That was when I decided I was never going to change and, frankly, I liked the person I was meant to be. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones because I didn’t let their prejudice drive me to take my own life.
My heart breaks for the families and for the lives cut short by ignorance and bigotry.