Making Our Own Family
These suicides have been featured on all the news channels and programs, the subject of talk shows, the plot of TV shows, and the cause célèbre. The most notable response has been the “It Gets Better Project” on YouTube, where the message for LGBT youth is simple: hang in there, it gets better. Countless celebrities, gay (Jake Shears, Chris Colfer, Tim Gunn) and straight (President Obama, Jewel and husband Ty Murray, Ke$ha, Joel Madden, Eve, Ciara and La La, AJ McLean, Rob Thomas), have uploaded videos imploring LGBT youth to seek help, to persevere in the face of bullying and bigotry, and to know that there is love for these distressed teens that is unwavering. The videos are undoubtedly moving and heart-warming, but far more important are the videos and stories of LGBT adults who share their own stories of persecution and detailing the strength it takes to overcome and emerge from the hell of adolescence with a sense of purpose and dignity.
We can’t help but be grateful for the attention, in the hope that young people will be spared from bullying, can find acceptance, and have the strength to save their own lives. Apparently, schools are responding, taking steps to educate students about the potential harms of bullying.
It’s stating the obvious that our cultural attention span is short, so soon the media and its stars will move on to some other cause or tragedy. Thus, it is important that this moment is seized, and that young men and women, like Tyler Clementi and Seth Walsh, aren’t quickly forgotten.
Back in Louisville, the focus was on life and living. Still, Tyler was remembered. “Did you hear about the kid who killed himself?” someone asked me. I don’t recall what I said, but I’m pretty certain it was banal and in no way fully expressed the loss I felt. He just let out a low sigh and shook his head. Too many. He has seen too many. We weren’t the only ones talking about Tyler, that day.
To lose another member of the family is particularly painful to these men and women, because they survived. They survived police raids, gay-bashing, prosecutorial indifference, and a president who allowed tens of thousands of gay men to die before publicly acknowledging that an epidemic existed. They have seen too many of their friends and family suffer and die.
There was a time in my life when it was a regular occurrence to see friends and acquaintances with black eyes, broken bones, deep bruises, or missing teeth—victims of a beat-down from homophobic individuals or mobs. I’ve attended more funerals for AIDS victims than I have blood relatives, and I can’t count the number of funerals I missed because they were in another state or I couldn’t get out of work that day. I remember vividly my disgust when a Dallas judge sentenced two young men to light prison terms for murder, because their victims had been queers, and really, the sentiment seemed, who can argue with getting rid of “those people”?
Going to the only gay bar in Waco, Texas, where I attended college, was akin to attending a top secret meeting: the club had no signs outside indicating it was a business of any kind, and upon entry, patrons found themselves in a small room where a man behind a glass partition sized them up, made them show ID, questioned them, and then required them to buy a membership to the club. It was the only way to keep the club’s patrons safe from the pervasive homophobia in this southern town.
The men and women at StarbaseQ could all share similar stories and will happily relate what it took to get out of bed every day in a culture that viewed them as pariahs, as evil forces of depravity bent on corrupting America’s youth. Many who had resigned themselves to never seeing gay marriage or hate crime legislation for LGBT persons now have hope, a belief that the landscape has changed to the point where most of society accepts us. There is a certain deserved pride they have in knowing that, just by being themselves, they helped to make that happen. Yet, our young people are still killing themselves.
Just as they have done for decades, these soldiers wait with open arms and hearts, ready to cradle and nurse those who are dying a slow death. However, the killer today is not AIDS—well, not as much as it once was—but the crushing weight of cruelty, individual and societal. The community of out and proud LGBT individuals that they formed is a refuge for those who are, in AIDS activist Mary Fisher’s words, “sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of (their) family’s rejection.”
Videos and public service announcements raise awareness and provide hope. Still, they can’t offer the healing touch of a hug, a sofa to sleep on when there is nowhere else to go, or a role model to look up to. That is what LGBT pioneers offer, and have offered for over 50 years, in America. LGBT youth would be wise to seek this family out when others turn away from them, whether they are seasoned warriors or brave new ones. There are so many resources to help. Talk to those who have been there, and you will discover a community of love. There, you will find home.
Judge Virginia Phillips
Cheers, Queers to Judge Virginia Phillips, who ruled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell violates both the First and Fifth Amendments. The fifth states that persons cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself, which those who are honest about their sexual orientation are required to do to uphold the military’s honor code. No doubt, some will label Judge Phillips as one of those damn “activist judges”, but logic would note that a true activist judge is one who would ignore the Constitution to uphold an unjust policy.
Here’s Mud in Your Eye to President Obama, who allowed the Justice Department to appeal the decision. Hey, Prez, don’t come knocking on the LGBT community’s door come 2012—we won’t be home. We’ll be marching to gain the rights that you are so obviously hesitant to grant us.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Marginal Utility
"The social-media companies have largely succeeded in persuading users of their platforms' neutrality. What we fail to see is that these new identities are no less contingent and dictated to us then the ones circumscribed by tradition; only now the constraints are imposed by for-profit companies in explicit service of gain.READ the article