Notes From The Field
While canvassing in Long Beach I asked a businessman coming out of a supermarket if he would take a moment to help us end anti-gay bullying in schools.
He stopped and told me that gay students aren’t bullied any more than other students, so we shouldn’t be just concentrating on ending bullying for them, but for all kids. I agreed with him that students get bullied at school for all sorts of reasons, but most of those kids will go home at the end of the day and at least have a family and community that supports and loves them. Many LGBT youth go home only to face the same hostility from a family that doesn’t accept them because of who they are. They are told by their communities and religious leaders that they are worthless and sinful. That’s what makes it different.
He stood there and respectively listened to what I had to say before interjecting to inform me that if these teenagers want to pursue that lifestyle, they should expect to be treated like that. I asked him if he thought being gay was a choice, and he said it was. He said that kids can be influenced by all sorts of things, especially the media, that can factor in to how they choose to identify themselves.
I told him that I’m gay, and had always known that was who I am, even before I knew what being gay was – it certainly wasn’t a choice for me.
‘Do you remember when you decided to be straight?’, I asked.
He thought for a second about this question. “No”, he responded, “I never questioned it”.
I’m sure that this was the first time that this man had ever had a real conversation about whether or not being gay was choice. Now it looked like he was reevaluating the core beliefs he had grown up with about gay people.
I told him that last year, 13-year-old Seth Walsh took his own life because he was bullied at school time and time again for being gay. For years he was harassed, and even though he reported the bullying to his teachers and school administration, they did absolutely nothing to stop it.
I told the man that if being gay truly was determined by choice, than I don’t believe Seth Walsh would have decided to be gay and face the sort of bullying that lead him to take his own life. I don’t think there are many kids who would choose to be gay when being straight is the far easier option. I asked him if he agreed, and he said that he had never thought about that, and that it was a good point.
He told me that when he was in middle school there was a boy who ended up transferring because everyone picked on him for being gay.
I told him that it’s kids like him and like Seth that we have a duty to protect so that they can feel safe at school and we don’t have any more of these suicides. LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
At this point I told him that the organization I work for, Equality California, just worked to pass Seth’s Law. Named after Seth Walsh, Seth’s law will tighten anti-bullying regulations in California and give school authorities strict guidelines and time-frames to address bullying for all students so we can protect kids like Seth.
The man nodded his head and said that it sounded like a great law. He asked me if I could write down the website for him so he could do more research about the organization when he got home. He thanked me for speaking with him, and told me that I had given him some interesting things to think about.