Kile Ozier knows how risky it is to come out as gay, but he believes it’s time to close the (r)evolutionary gap.
A few years ago, a Latino teenager in a huge, American metropolis gathered his courage and told his stepfather he was gay.
His stepfather beat him, stabbed him, killed him and threw his body in a suburban lake.
Extreme, this; though not uncommon. The bullying, the violence, the psychological and physical injury done to not only young gays just coming out, but more and more to any gay person seen as a target is rooted in abject fear, born of ignorance and an absence of understanding.
The cause isn’t simple, having roots in the myths and fears of homosexuality that have shown up in Western organized religion, Calvinism and Puritanism for centuries; certainly having taken deep root in conservative America. I believe that the reason we are seeing such a sharp rise in bullying, suicide and overall anti-gay bigotry and violence is the fact of that missing generation of men who died so young during the first decade of the AIDS epidemic.
This sweeping disappearance of a bridging generation has exacerbated the rift, especially locally—in neighborhoods and small towns outside the metropolitan bastions of progressiveness—leaving kids to fend for themselves. A generation gone, leaving an adult population with a dearth of gay and lesbian peers to counsel, caution and enlighten, step by step: to simply be present in peripheral communities, visibly thriving and allaying parental fears through vibrant example.
The disconnect comes from kids being able to self-identify so much earlier. They can see from television, facebook, twitter, YouTube, music, young adult literature; so many contexts that depict acceptance of gayness, of loving, same sex relationships. With such, they can recognize the feelings that roil within and give them a name and context in a freedom unavailable to us just decades ago. A decade ago!
No longer do kids believe themselves “the only one” with these feelings, as they can see that there are hundreds of thousands, millions of others; building lives and loving relationships and being happy. So, a kid can figure out who she or he is at eleven or at fourteen and can find the courage to accept personal identity and declare it…and, that’s where the problem lies.
The parents aren’t ready. The communities aren’t ready. From rural, low-income, church-based communities to urban minority communities—African American and Latino communities, in particular—where the church is the focal point of the community and society and the parents may not even speak English. In that context, a child coming out is a threat to the very foundation of that family.
Just as the cycle of technology gets tighter and tighter, with successive improvements, upgrades and evolutions coming closer and closer together, so is the information carried by that technology spread further and faster and more broadly. In this respect, the kids become more sophisticated than the parents and in this context, they are more aware of and comfortable with something about which the parents are decidedly disinterested.
As a society, it is our responsibility to reach out to these kids, their families and their communities. Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign has gone a long way toward raising awareness and instilling courage and patience in pre-teens and adolescents, and we need to take some next steps.
I’m not pitching an “It Gets Better, but Watch Your Back” campaign, and I do embrace those videos and presentations that encourage kids to find allies for themselves. As allies, we need to be very visible. Further, communities, town councils and schools need to be aggressive about creating and offering safe haven for the bullied and enlightenment for the bullies…at every level.
This can and will take unique form, community by community.
The heaviest of the lifting has already been done. While there remain prices to pay in myriad contexts for being the first in perhaps your family, your company, your school, your church, your whatever to give voice to the actual person you are; the fact is that all the truly big prices have been and are being paid. So, step up.
Jobs have been lost, families have been broken-up, men and women have been beaten-up, kids have been killed or committed suicide: what worse thing is going to happen to you? Two words, y’all: Matthew Shepard.
What’s going to happen to you?
High school valedictorians have announced and acknowledged themselves at their graduations, Zach Wahls has stood before the Illinois legislature to attest to the values he learned from his Lesbian moms, Jason Collins is out and still playing, Robbie Rogers came out and was invited back to his game. Adam Lambert is building an out career without the support of a major record label. We are everywhere; I believe it is, by now, our duty and responsibility to stand up and stand out.
Enough with the “…it would hurt my parents,” “…my job would be put at risk,” “…how would it really help?” “…it’s my personal decision.”
Yes, it is your personal decision; so fracking make it, already. Every day of your silence, someone is beaten up, someone is voting against your (and our) rights, someone feels so alone that that a young life is ended before it even blooms.
The only thing holding you back is your own fear, especially in this country. Give those whom you love and who love you the opportunity to know who you are and to learn to accept and love the authentic you rather then the act you are foisting on them in the name of “peace”—but actually out of your own fear.
And, I’m weary of hearing “it’s nobody’s business but my own.” That’s a load, y’know. If you work in an office and change pronouns in conversation, you are contributing to the problem that leads to others being beaten up and bullied. You are saying you are ashamed and dressing it in the excuse of privacy. Using “they” or “a friend” rather than “he” or “she” or (dare you?) “my partner / boyfriend / girlfriend / fiancé; Babe, that’s cowardly.
If your officemate regales you of a story about his or her family’s activities over the weekend and your response is about you and “a buddy” doing something fun…when that “buddy” is your significant other…you’re lying. Sharing authentic information is no more “flaunting” one’s lifestyle than straight people talking about their life partners. If they can do it, so can you. If you can’t, then you must also accept responsibility for every negative vote, every bullying situation, every suicide and every issue that does not go our way.
Stand up. Speak out. Be visible. Contribute to the solution.
There are no guarantees, and you know what? Something bad just might happen; I actually lost a job in none other than San Francisco, back in 1981, because of my gayness. I survived. I still survive; and, frankly, that firing turned out pretty great for me, as my life took a much healthier path after that.
One never knows what the result will be, but it’s time to find out. Big decisions are being made in DC this month, and all over the world. Silence = Collusion.
Am I being harsh? Perhaps. Deal with it.
My own family cut off communication with me for a decade after I came out, and my mother never fully “got it.” But, I sure as hell gave her the opportunity and, as best she could, she tried to understand…making a lot of mistakes along the way. The freedom that is inherent in hiding nothing is of an unmatchable high. I offer this to you to experience.
Come out; make yourself visible and available to help those who are struggling. I doubt that anyone reading this piece isn’t qualified to be a role model in some context or other. You are a leader. A nation of leaders have paved the way; you have a safety net.
So, here’s what you can perhaps do. Gather a group of LGBT professionals in your area and launch a speaker’s bureau. Go to PTAs, churches, youth groups, fraternal orders…simply present who we are and answer questions. Keep your cool and know that you are helping the world to evolve.
Just do it.