Why am I apologizing? I am apologizing to my cousin. I apologize that the dissonance I felt about exploring sexual orientation caused me to make funny of you, instead of understanding you. In recognition of today’s anti-bullying event, I wanted to share my story and help spread awareness about the bullying issues LGBTQ-youth face.
I was a bully. Now, I’m not saying I was the playground bully beating people up or even the kid on MySpace cyber-bullying. I was the bystander bully. I let things happen, I encouraged my friends to engage in negative behavior. This story goes back to 1996. As a teenager, I was an unassuming homophobic kid. In junior high, I attend school with two of my cousins. It was the three of us, always together. At that same time, one of my cousins, George, began to act “differently.” I could only describe it back then as “girly.” When in reality, he was brave enough to be public with his coming-out process. We had never been taught about homosexuality, LGBT issues, or gender expression. I remember, making fun of my cousin because of his gender expression and the way he acted different from most 14 year old boys. At times, the ridicule got so bad, that he would avoid us for days. Through out those two years in junior high, I let people make fun of him and at times I was the primary oppressor. Needless to say, he decided to attend a different high school than us. Maybe it was because he lived closer to another high school, but inside I felt the guilt. Inside, I knew that the wanted to escape the ridicule. Reflecting on my past, it is realistic to believe that LGBT-youth are 4 times more like to attempt suicide.
Every time, I read an article about being an advocate, present an LGBT-awareness program, or have a discussion on social justice, I think of my cousin and what I didn’t do. The way I was a bystander and homophobe. I didn’t accept him, I made his life harder, and I was family. No thanks to me, his coming-out process was harder than it need to. Never again! I am a more educated, aware, and compassionate person.
Now, I can blame it on my cultural conditioning. Coming from a catholic family that condoned homosexuality; or living in a predominately homogeneous community that did not understand LGBT issues; or even the teenage survival of the fittest theory, that you’d rather been making fun of someone than being on the receiving end. It was junior high, what was the harmer, right? Regardless, young people were/are taking their lives in high school or even younger.
After years of interacting in college with diverse people and participating in multicultural programs; I understand, appreciate, and advocate for the LGBT community. It took me 20 years to challenge my homophobia and begin to internalize my dissonance. I began dealing with my individual power and privilege. Learning that it was also necessary to develop the courage to speak out against my friends/family/fraternity brother’s incompetence and intolerance.
I have learned from my mistakes, my silence, and my own fear of being ostracized. It is time I recognize my oppressive behaviors and work towards being more social just. It’s about understanding your power and privileged; and I am aware of it now.
I do my best to be an ally to the LGBT community and advocate for it as much as I can.
It does get better. I will do my part to make it better. Working with first-years students, students in res life, and Greek students, I know I can make a positive impact helping them gain awareness and appreciation for difference. Love is louder, but so is action. I pledge to fight bullying, especially towards the LGBT community. Education is key. Educate to spread awareness; making sure no other student, parent, or friend has to suffer from the loss of a person bullied.