I recently read that a teenage boy near my hometown in Iowa committed suicide because he was being bullied for being gay. I cringed inwardly as I read it. The town is small – 900 people. He went to the same high school as several of my cousins – one who went on to play professional football. I know that area well – I know that school well.
And my heart wept as I read about what he had been put through.
Growing up in that part of Iowa meant growing up in a very conservative part of the state. That area has elected officials who go on to do such things as push for laws making English the official and only language spoken by state officials. A large irony given the fact that most of the meat packing plants and farm grunt work is done by legal Mexican immigrants because the “white people” wont do those jobs anymore.
But why did my heart weep?
My best friend from the time I was 10 is gay.
I knew he was gay when we were in middle school. While other boys were chasing girls around – trying to “hook up” with someone to call their own, he was sitting back with the girls. He had no interest in dating them. He focused on his singing. And he focused on his outfits.
As we got older, the boys noticed. I recall being at a basketball away game with the boys team – and they were taunting him about being their manager so he could see the boys naked in the locker room. It went on and on and on. And as he sat there partially ignoring it, partially laughing it off – I was pissed. I would physically put myself between his attackers and him. At the time, I didn’t have my voice with the guys older than I am.
But I found it soon after.
They would taunt.
He would laugh it off.
I would reply with a dagger back to them.
And everyone would laugh.
And they would stop.
He was still in the closet. He was still trying to “act straight” even going so far as having a girl friend which lead to some funny funny stories. And I supported him – not truly understanding, at the time, what I was supporting. All I knew is that he was who he was. No one should be taunted for it.
Did anyone intervene – adults?
Nope. They didn’t know what to make of it either. And if they would, they would stand behind their religion – their conservative attitudes towards those “unnatural things” and likely give a line about boys being boys.
He survived. Went off to a good christian college – at his parents’ request – where he came into touch with the fact he is gay – had a boyfriend – then was outed to his parents by the conservative Christian mother of his boyfriend. He was disowned. And people agreed with his parents because – well – you can’t be gay in that part of Iowa.
This is why my heart weeps. While what my friend went through was 20+ years ago, I know it hasn’t changed. I know kids are worse. Toss in the internet, and they can take it to a whole new level. Technology being used to aid their bullying. And parents – parents more than likely totally oblivious to it all.
I hate that this kid didn’t have someone in his life that tried to protect him.
I hate that it happened.
And I can only hope that the parents of the kids in his class take a serious look at their own kids and make sure that they are teaching them tolerance. I hope they have conversations. I hope they set expectations. I hope they pass along love and tolerance instead of perpetuating the hate that seems to be the norm – the hate against anyone different than they are. I hope that his death is not in vain.
Because I know what it was like. I watched it. And I hated it.
It is the main reason why my kids will never find that acceptable. Because I raised them to be tolerant. I expect they are tolerant. I just wish more parents did.