Wednesday, January 5, 2011

justice department supports anti-gay bullying efforts at blake high school

Yesterday, representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice came to Blake High School in Cloverly to premiere a video for the "It Gets Better" project, which aims to stop anti-gay bullying. Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, was on hand to introduce the video and answer questions from students as cameras from local TV stations rolled.

In the nine-minute film, Justice Department workers, many of whom were gay or lesbian, talked about their experiences being bullied in high school. The video had two messages: that gay and straight youth alike should feel proud of who they are, and that the government is committed to protecting them from being mistreated. I was told that yesterday's premiere happened at Blake because of the school's reputation for being "gay-friendly."

Before I graduated from Blake six years ago, my friends and I lovingly called it "the liberal faggy school on a hill." But my brother, who goes to Briggs Chaney Middle School, tells me his classmates say that "any boy who goes to Blake is an F-A-G." I was shocked by this comment, because it's words like this that kept me from reaching out to people who could help me when I struggled with my sexuality in high school.

Blake has a gay-straight alliance called Allies 4 Equality. Though it existed when I went there, the first time I ever attended a meeting was last October. Deena Barlev, who advises the club when she's not teaching 9th grade English, invited me to speak at A4E. I've been best friends with her son Gili since 1998, and it's accurate to say that Deena watched me grow up and eventually come out.

In a Facebook message, Deena told me about the school's commitment to its LGBTQ students:

Blake High School prides itself on being a place where LGBTQ students and their straight allies feel safe and respected. Virtually every instructional area of the building has a "Safe Space" sign posted, and our principal has made strong and repeated statements to faculty that our students' emotional as well as physical safety is a professional expectation."

Even coming from a trusted teacher like Deena or an official like Tom Perez, a phrase like "It Gets Better" might be kind of irritating to a teenager who's being tormented every day without relief. At A4E, I heard about kids who got picked on in class and teachers who didn't really care. I met one boy who got kicked out of his house for being gay. The club meets Thursdays at lunch, and for forty-five minutes these kids have a safe space in which to sort themselves out. For the rest of the week, they're out in the wild.

I still wish I'd been smart enough to come to an A4E meeting back in 2005. I'd been picked on since elementary school, and as the taunts grew from "wuss" in fourth grade to "queer" in ninth grade, I didn't want to invite any more attention to myself. I was already a brainy, mixed-race kid who preferred theatre and chorus to gym. So I tried very hard to fit in, wearing football jerseys and baggy pants, and each week I'd find a new girl to chase after. The taunting eventually stopped, but I'd spend high school working very hard to be someone I wasn't.

It was exhausting. By the time I finished senior year I was terribly confused and very depressed. Worse yet is that I knew why I was unhappy, but I couldn't admit it to myself.

But things got better, and fast. I went from a suburban high school of 1,900 students to a university with 35,000 students. I felt anonymous, but it gave me the opportunity to take stock of my life and my identity; not surprisingly, I came out two months into freshman year. After college, I was incredibly fortunate to spend a year working for the Montgomery County Council, which was a very tolerant place. I had several out coworkers, and I was able to see that gay people can lead happy, successful lives.

I live a happy, successful life, and I look forward to having a career and a family of my own one day. It's not always perfect. When Tastee Diner kicked out a lesbian couple two summers ago, I was reminded of the prejudice that remains even in as tolerant a place as Silver Spring. Occasionally, I'll still get called a faggot on the street. And, most painfully, I'm still not out to most of my family.

But yesterday, I returned Blake with my boyfriend and signed the "It Gets Better" pledge, which reads:
Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that "It Gets Better."

I also saw that my government is working to keep all of its people safe and free to be themselves. I saw that kids who are going through what I did are getting the love and support they need. And I got real, tangible proof that things are getting better indeed.


jag2923 said...

Great post, Dan. Just in case someone out there hasn't seen Councilmember Burns speech (long, but worth it):

Anonymous said...

There has been a hue and cry over anti-bullying legislation in schools. This legislation is supposed driven by the LGBT community over "startling injustices" and actions against sexual minorities. As usual, this is a farce by the far left wing collectivists to serve scraps to their allies in the gay and lesbian community. Schools should be no bullying zones for all children regardless of sexual orientation or geek status. The weak should not be bullied by the strong. The marginalized should not be targeted by the majority. The winners should be gracious to the losers and the same in reverse. Maybe you are a wuss if you can't stick up for youself and teach your kids to do the same. The Government can't solve all your problems, sport.

Critically Urban said...

pablostaxx: Anti-gay bullying is of a different breed than normal day-to-day bullying. Obviously bullying will never stop. Some people are egomaniacal insecure bullies and some people just happen to be quiet or vulnerable enough to bullied. But anti-gay bullying is different. It's a targeted, conscious effort towards a gay or straight person meant to intimidate them based on their sexual orientation. Other bullying normally targets someone for less intrinsic things. You probably know this, since you sound as though you are in defense of bullying in general and are probably a bully yourself. But since racist and sexist bullying is already targeted by schools and governments, it's time to put homophobic bullying efforts in the books as well.

Anonymous said...

Aw. Another victim. HELP me Mr. Obama, I'm being targeted because I'm gay. All bullying is targeted. Try to think about this outside of your gay gay world, in adult terms. Bullys target the weak, the different, the vulnerable. Most is sexually agnostic. I'm not in defense of bullying. I'm against hijacking an agenda for political purposes...
In the mean time, try developing skills to shape your environment instead of having it shape you.

Dan Reed said...


While I want to have a forum for differing opinions, I really don't appreciate your response. Unless you can find a more respectful way to make your points, I'll have to remove you from the site. Thanks!

jag2923 said...

Per usual, the only one who makes things political is you. Where in the post or comments (other than yours) do you see mention of anything political?? Even slightly?

"I'm against hijacking an agenda for political purposes" - you're honestly blind to the embarrassingly ironic, uneducated, and irrelevant statements you make? This isn't a political issue. Get over yourself.

Hans Riemer said...

Dan, I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you, and I hope that it provides some inspiration to other kids in our community schools.

Anonymous said...

Dan: Pathetic
Jag: Brilliant!
Hans: Shocking

Good discussion. I have enjoyed the opportunity to occasionally comment. Y'all enjoy your day.