This blog post was originally submitted as an entry in the Huffpost’s Teen Impact contest and awarded as a runner-up.
Gender bullying has become a daily reality in my small Southern high school. Junior year, I realized how desperate the need for resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids is. But I also noticed that a student doesn’t have to be gay to be bullied for being gay. If a boy has a high-pitched voice, he likes other boys. If a girl doesn’t wear makeup, she must think she’s a boy. These statements may sound ridiculous to you, but they are law around here. The penalty can be name-calling, cyberbullying, having to move schools, or even death — about 30 percent of suicides relate to this issue. But it’s closer to home for me than these alarming numbers.
I was bullied in middle school. And I thought I had just suffered so much because people spread rumors that I was a lesbian and stepped on my foot. Oh, no — this was academic paradise compared to my friends’ lives. One of my best friends has been called a dyke and shoved into lockers — even though she dates a boy and looked stunning in her prom dress. A guy friend has gay slurs hurled at him by a coach for not being ‘manly enough.’ Another friend got beaten by her family when they found out she had a crush on her female best friend. And one boy I know was harassed to the point that he had to move schools to graduate.
Sadly, I’ve found, these are the lucky ones. For being attracted to different people or not fitting gender roles, many lose homes and families, roaming the street as runaways. Many, overwhelmed with pain of not fitting in, kill themselves, unable to reach the young age of 18. Some, like Matthew Shepard in 1998, are murdered.
Clearly, the subject is controversial. Traditions, religious or otherwise, dictate that some of this is wrong. Some people say that what I did promotes a certain political agenda. However, I know little of politics. And nearly all religions agree that standing by when children are in danger is a grave sin.
This is why, in April 2011, I began work on my high school’s first-ever Gay-Straight Alliance. I only knew of one teacher who would support such a club, but she had other responsibilities. Hesitantly I asked, with a meek but resolved tone, if we could create a safe place for youth like my friends, full of love and acceptance. I told her it might not put a stop to bullying, since we weren’t allowed to openly invite people or advertise, but it might provide a resource for the bullied. With resolve, she agreed.
I’ve never been one to speak up like this. My goals, like the average teenage girl, involved getting people to like me. And that’s why I was nervous. This could mean making lifetime friends, but it definitely meant making enemies. Never had I stood up for something I believed in before. Or had I just not believed in much of anything?
So I got to work — recruiting members, circulating petitions which were mutilated by disapproving students, writing letters to administrators, and filling out applications. I was filled with a passion my friends had never seen. My boyfriend was shocked that I would go door-to-door when I had a painful mouth infection to collect permission slips. But when a graduating senior told me this project gave him hope, that was enough encouragement. I kept going.
Six months later, the Gay-Straight Alliance held its first meeting. I made rainbow cupcakes, thinking I’d have to take most of them home, if not all. Meekly, I peeked in the door and fourteen people stared back! That number would only grow in the next few weeks. I was so grateful to these smiling faces for giving me a reason to chance away my summer and reputation and have it all pay off. But I saw the real reimbursement of the struggle when we collapsed in a little circle, lamenting over death, family betrayal, self-hatred, and every other sorrow we’d all been holding in. Many of us cried into our soft drinks. But we left with relief, the liberating feeling of love and acceptance. If any of us had been in danger of self-harm that week, it was postponed till the next gathering. We knew that much.
I started this thing hoping to extinguish the blaze of hatred around me, based on gender, orientation, anything really. It became a haven for people who didn’t believe in themselves, in love. I had to show them they’re worth loving.
My GSA is the reason I believe in love again. I know this generation isn’t blind to the concept of activism. It’s just desensitized. But we’re gaining back our senses of self and community. We’re finding love again.