To clarify, when I say openly gay, I do not mean they were having sex with boys in the cafeterias of their respective schools. I mean that they were gay as they walked through the halls, sat in their classrooms, and checked books out of the libraries. They were simply being them, which meant being gay in the same way that any given heterosexual classmate is just straight, even without skipping class to have sex with someone of the opposite sex under the bleachers.
We can’t peel back the layers of Phillip’s and Jacob’s existences far enough to see how long their lives might have been in a world without homophobia. The toll that bullying takes on the human spirit is incalculable. We cannot undo the consequences of living for 14 or 18 years in a world where they could be hated, rejected, and even abused for simply being who they are, in order to evaluate if they would have been suicidal without all that being gay cost them.
Much like we cannot untangle the consequences of years of oppression because of the color of one’s skin, we can never truly understand this. Just like we can’t really comprehend the countless ways women’s lives have been altered, possibly forever, by those years that women were considered inferior to men, we can’t see who these children would have been without being bullied because they were gay.
As a society, we can begin to realign ourselves with the truth–that we are equal, regardless of the color of our skin and the nature of our sex organs–but the consequences of being so far out of our integrity are epic, the toll is extensive, and the recovery is possibly even more extensive. The same is happening today with bias based on sexual orientation, not just in our schools but in our society, not just to young people but to people of all ages who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered. And it’s not just the bully on the playground, there are bullies everywhere.
Consider the intersection of this latest bill, the letter from an elected state official, and all of these gay kids who have taken their own lives, and tell me this: How are they supposed to keep from giving up? What are we–their parents, teachers, neighbors, elected officials, etc.–doing to convince them that their life is precious and sacred when so many others are either targeting them or denying that this part of their identity even exists?
Where are they supposed to find the strength to stick it out until “it gets better” when there is so much to prove that it is not getting better?
Two years ago, a 14-year old boy died in the school gymnasium during the first practice of the boys’ soccer team. That boy’s death brought my community to its knees, but now that same community is allowing, and in some cases even perpetuating, treatment of gay kids that has already been shown to be life-threatening. If we could have done anything to prevent that boy’s heart from stopping, there is no doubt in my mind that literally thousands of people would have done whatever it took to make that happen. So, why wouldn’t every single one of those same people go to any length to save another child’s life? Why wouldn’t we do whatever we can in my community to create a loving, supportive, accepting environment for kids now that we’ve seen so many kids take their own lives after being bullied because of being gay?