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Let's work together against bullying and help bring the teen suicide rate down to zero

Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco

Happy Birthday, Harvey May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978

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Secretly, I always tried to keep up with gay-related news stories when I was young.  With no electronic media in those days, following national gay-related events was challenging, to say the least.  I remember hearing about someone in San Francisco becoming the first openly gay elected official.  Of course San Francisco.  Here on the East Coast of the U.S., people are trained to believe that that beautiful City by the Bay is nothing more than a haven for gays.  Like everyone there runs around in pink tutus, spreading fairy dust everywhere they go.  People are strange.

Harvey Milk was his name.  I locked that name into my memory bank, even as a young man.  Even as a 20-year-old, I believed that more gays should become visible for who they were and the contributions they had to offer.  Harvey Milk was a validation.  In fact, we shared that same philosophy.

On his third attempt, Harvey was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  The effects of his presence had national impact.  Amongst the things he championed in a city where the misinformed thought was a gay paradise, Milk fought against discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace and housing market.  He won.  He fought for gays and lesbians to be hired as police officers in the City.  He won.  And, the fought the state senate in their effort to ban gays and lesbians from being teachers in California’s school systems.  He won.
On November 27, 1978, after temporarily losing his sanity from eating too many Twinkies, former city Supervisor Dan White shot and killed both Harvey Milk and San Francisco then-Mayor, George Moscone.  Three-thousand miles away, this 21-year-old heard the news and cried.  Even without the instant access to news that we have today via the Internet and 24/7 cable news, I knew instinctively that Harvey had been assassinated because he was, in fact, a gay man.  A gay man who tried to stand up and make a difference.  In 1978, that was unheard of.
In 1986, I arrived in San Francisco.  A new beginning.  Until then, my world had consisted only of Maryland and Virginia.  As a 27-year-old, wide-eyed openly gay man, I soaked in all of what this paradise had to offer.  One of the first things I had to do was visit The Castro.  Harvey’s old stomping ground.  As I got off of the underground transit, MUNI, I walked out into Harvey Milk Plaza.  And, I was frozen in time.  There I stood, on the hallowed grounds where, less than a decade before, Harvey Milk launched a brilliant, if too short, political career.
Harvey did much more than fight for gay rights.  As he saw it, gay rights was just another cog in the wheel of human rights.  Basic human rights that, still today, we still fight to achieve.  Harvey Milk worked hard for changes in education, transportation, low-income housing, and more.  He was truly a politician for the people.  As it should be.  His life, and his promising political career, may have been cut short at the hands of former supervisor Dan White.  His legacy, however, will live forever.  In San Francisco.  In California.  And, around the country within the LGBT community.  On this day, we celebrate the life and times of Harvey Milk.  Happy 82nd birthday.  Oh, and thank you for your contributions.
                                                           

Passing the Torch

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In any war, the battle is essentially being fought for the generations to follow:  for our children.  And, their children.  Warriors lay their lives on the line so that their kids, their kids kids, can have a better, safer, happier life.  The “warriors” of Stonewall fought for their “kids”, the generation of young LGBT kids coming behind them.  And, behind them.  I’m so glad they did.  See, I’m part of the generation they were fighting for.

I remember Stonewall being in the news.  I was 12.  I knew, instinctively, that what was going on in the newspaper (life before the Internet was vastly different!) was good.  By that time in my life, I was fully aware that I was a gay teen and had already had my first boyfriend.  Seeing them lay their lives on the line against an establishment that hated them touched me in an indescribable place.  I knew.

The war we’re fighting today is for the liberty, justice, and equality for our LGBT youth of today.  We’re fighting for their freedom to live happily without a government or religious body that sanctions their being attacked, both emotionally and physically.  We’re fighting for their freedom to marry the one they love, just as their straight counterparts will do.  We’re fighting for equality, for ourselves as well as for them.

And, we’re passing the torch.

Because of the Internet, there’s a “right-now-ness” that we didn’t have in generations gone by.  We can, and do, connect with people all around this massive globe at the click of the “send” button.  And, as a result, there’s a movement going on right now that is going to change the world as we know it.  A paradigm shift.  Yes, we the children of Stonewall are paving the way.  However, the torch is also being passed to some very strong, very dedicated young leaders.  And, they need to be recognized for the work they’re doing:

  • Christi O’Connor contacted me about a month ago about the Monster March Against Bullying.  The goal is for at least 10,000 LGBT teens to march to the step of San Francisco’s City Hall in an effort to compel their leaders that “It HAS TO Get Better”.  The Rodemeyers will be there.  Jonah Mowry and his family will be there.  That’s powerful stuff.  And, all of this was organized by TEENS!!  On her wall, Christi posted this:

“Hi Everyone.The good news is we have more wonderful content, new partners and teens’ videos we hadn’t anticipated this week. The down news is it has delayed our launch of our www.themonstermarch.com site until MONDAY. We’ll remind everyone to go to it Monday. So sorry for the delay. Big announcements coming on the site!”

The official website goes up on Monday.  Looking forward to checking that out.  Looking forward even more to October and their Monster March!!

  • While not at teen, at 23, Mark Blane is still young enough to be considered part of the youth movement.  This very talented director/playwright/activist is putting his best effort into making a difference.  On June 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, the play, which Mark wrote and directed, “The Rock and The Ripe” will go into production in Chicago.  The play is about “the bullied and bruised Gay Youth of America”.  There’s also a book by the same title.  But, most importantly, Mark has a fundraiser page in place in an attempt to take this provocative and important play national.  This very compelling video makes you understand what’s at stake.
  • And, then there’s 18-year-old Brett Simpson.  I had seen this video response floating around for a while but, quite frankly, didn’t watch it because I’d grown weary of the “flash-card messages”.  Eventually, of course, I gave in and watched it. (it kept popping up here and there, so I figured there had to be something to it.  I was right.)  Watching that video changed my life.  Here was this handsome 18-year-old who, himself, had been badly bullied!, reaching out to other teens who were in crisis!  He opened his life to the world of LGBT teens, giving almost all of his personal information, and told them “I’m always here for you”.  That, alone, made my eyes water.  Refusing to be “the victim”, Brett instead stood strong and reached out.  And, the teens have been responding!!!  As an example, this message was just posted to his wall:  Zachary Smith: “Brett, this is amazing. I know you can do great things for the future of this country. It would be wonderful to meet you someday. Also, make sure you save this somewhere, because coming from someone who wrote something similar about a long battle with learning disabilities, personal written pieces such as this one are very appealing to higher learning institutions, if that’s what you plan on doing in the future.”  He has quite a following in his facebook community, Click “Like” if You Support the LGBT Questioning Community.  I’ve been so impressed with the work Brett’s doing, I made him an administrator on my facebook blog page.  And, he’s done great there, as well.

  • As a testimony to the impact Brett is having on the young, up-and-coming LGBT teens, this video was made by a 14-year-old LGBT youth named John.  The video is stunning, to say the least.  And, to think that a 14-year-old produced it just warms the heart.  The message is clear and, coming from someone who is in the age group most affected by the bullying against LGBT teens in this country, and around the world!, it’s extremely powerful.  If the readers of this blog post click no other link herein, do check out this video.

Obviously, there are more teens around who are doing some great things, like Daria, Amber, and Alexis in Indiana who have their own anti-bullying page.  And, they’re only in middle school!!!  I could probably dedicate an entire week, at least!, recognizing the efforts being undertaken by our youth, gay and straight alike, as they take matters into their own hands in attempt to make their world a better place.  This is just a few of them.

The world truly is changing, right before our eyes.  And, it’s changing for the better.  Most importantly, the youth-led movement is really getting traction and making a difference.  It makes us older warriors feel good to know that the torch is being passed to such capable hands.

Historic Moment

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While we’re enjoying a moment of relative calm, and I’m knocking on wood as I say that, I figured this is a good time to do a little reflecting.  And, sharing.

We’re in a time period right here and now that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a much younger man.  I’ve always said that the only way things were ever going to change would be for every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender person to come out of the closet and make themselves known.  That day is here.  We’re coming out at the workplace; we’re coming out in middle and high school.  And, our voices are resonating around the globe.  It’s a beautiful day.

Of course, it isn’t coming without resistance from “the other side”.  That just means that we’re doing something right!  We’re standing up and telling the world that we are no less equal than anyone else.  And, it’s scaring the hell out of “them”.  That’s fine.  Change scares people.

And, of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done.  The issue of bullying and LGBT teen suicide is a black eye on the face of this, the new Civil Rights movement.  Slowly but surely, as more and more people are standing up to be counted, changes are being made even on that sore spot.  In some cases, sadly, the change isn’t coming fast enough.

We’re at an exciting time in our history.  Not just LGBT history!  History, period!!  Within the next 10-15 years, marriage equality will be the norm.  The LGBT teen suicide will be next-to-nil because the changing environment will no longer tell them that they’re freaks, sick, or damaged.  It will embrace them.  At the very least, it will accept them.  What a major boost to their collective self-esteem that will be.  We’re on the forefront of that movement right here, right now.  And, years down the road, people will look back upon this time as the turning point, the point in time where we stood up and told the world ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and made them listen.  And, there will be names that will stand out.

Kevin “Kel” O’Neil has created a monster of a facebook community, and website, that is truly changing and saving lives!

Lyndsay Winegarden created a safe haven for at-risk teens in her effort to STOP Teenage Suicide.  That’s no small feat.

Charity Smith created a forum for people to come out anonymously.  How huge is that!?  That’s a major step for many people.

When Jamie Hubley committed suicide in October 2011, several tribute pages popped up on facebook in his honor.  One in particular, though, has morphed into the most loving and caring support community online.  People there know each other by name.  When people have struggles, there’s always, always, always people there ready to rush to their assistance.  Amazing.

Young people are coming forward bravely and very effectively and reaching out to their peers in an effort to make a difference.  Brett Simpson created a video encouraging other teens to contact him personally if they needed someone to talk to or if they were struggling.  Not satisfied with that, he turned his personal social network page into a support community AND started a second one.  The response to both has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Jonah Mowry is part of a group of teens who have decided to take the matter of bullying, as well as their future as LGBT teens, into their own hands.  They are organizing what they’re calling the Monster March Against Bullying, with the goal of having tens of thousands of teens from all over the country (world?) march with them to San Francisco’s City Hall in October.  That’s incredible stuff!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that it was Jamie Hubley’s suicide that made me decide to roll up my sleeves and get involved in trying to make a difference.  This blog was created, and will always be written, in his honor.  He gave me my true voice.  And, since its inception on November 7th, I’ve been humbled by the response it has received.  It’s being read by hundreds, and sometimes thousands, per day.  More importantly, it’s making a difference in people’s lives.  That wouldn’t be happening, however, without every single one of you who are reading these words right now!  You read it; you respond to it by way of your comments and emails; and, you get involved when it’s called upon you to do so.  So, it’s actually YOU who are making the difference!!

Together, we are changing history!!  I’ve dreamed of this historic moment forever.

Monster March Against Bullying

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I think my favorite line from their “info” section is:

While parents, school officials and politicians keep imposing well intended rules and policies, we teenagers know real change… starts with us.

My smile was ear-to-ear!  Christi O’Connor, of San Francisco, sent me an email last week telling me about their Monster March Against Bullying to be held in the City By The Bay in October (no specific date given yet) in hope that I would help her spread the word.  And, of course, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  So far, in my opinion, this is the single greatest thing I’ve seen emerge in our collective struggle to bring an end to the bullying and help end the teen suicides, gay and straight alike.

The Monster March is a teen-created and teen-led protest marking a critical responsibility shift in solving our nation’s deadly bullying problem. This October, more than 10,000 of us teens from across the nation and around the world will march through the streets of San Francisco in what we plan to make “The Largest Teen Protest In History.” We will draw unprecedented awareness as we step into our power and claim our role in creating and putting into action our anti bullying solutions only teenagers can ensure work.

So, who is Christi O’Connor?  I can’t answer that in any other way than to say that she’s a driven teen who’s on a mission to make a huge difference in the lives of the teens who are bullied, to the families and friends of those who have committed suicide because of bullying.   Read her email to me for yourself:

Ron,
I’ve read a lot of what you write on bullying. Thank you. I’m the founder of the national youth led Monster March Against Bullying with The Rodemeyers, The Mowrys and many other bullying families behind our teens. Last Monday, we flew five headline making bullying families and many teens from around the country to help launch The Monster March.

We would love your help spreading the news of our teens’ invite to Lady Gaga and to President Obama to be at our 10,000 teen march against bullying in San Francisco this October. If you can ask all your followers to Tweet both letting them know your fans want both to join us, it will boost our profile and more teens will join us. The October march is just the celebratory finale of our teens’ year long campaign of projects they’re leading online, in classrooms and everywhere they can influence peers.

They want to recruit every teen they can.

Check out our FB page and our “Top 10 Teen Solutions” list. We change it every two weeks pushing to the top, the best in that time frame.

Also everything we have in our “Photos.”

Our teens include best friends and siblings of bullied teens from all over the country who’ve killed themselves. These teens are committed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVzNKZpqDDo)

Go to http://www.facebook.com/youthvoicetv

Warmly,

Christi O’Connor
Founder “The Monster March Against Bullying”

Amazing stuff.  And, she has a point:  for all the work we adults do, or try to do, to end this madness, ultimately it will be up to them, the teens, to take matters in their own hands and say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”!!!  That message coming from us, the concerned citizens, adults, and parents, carries some weight.  Things ARE happening albeit slowly.  However, that same message coming from THOUSANDS of teens is going to be impossible to ignore.  Add to their cause such influential, anti-bullying people as Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama, and the entire WORLD will have no choice but to stand up and take notice. (disclaimer:  as of this writing, invitations have been sent to Lady Gaga and the POTUS.  It’s not confirmed, yet, that either will be in attendance.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.)  The family of Jamey Rodemeyer will be there in support of the Monster March Against Bullying, as will Jonah Mowry and his family.  I’m hoping that, by the time October rolls into San Francisco, many more family and friends of victims of bullying will be there in attendance.

The video attached to the email was the clencher.  Sixteen-year-old Liane, makes a very strong case for everyone to get involved by driving home the question “What are you waiting for?”  She had just lost a friend to suicide at the time she recorded the video.  The pain, the anguish!, is very visible on her face.  And, that pain isn’t isolated.  That pain and anguish is, sadly, shared all over the world every single day as yet another teenager ends their own life.

So, my question is the same:  What ARE you waiting for?  Every 18 minutes, another teenager ends his or her life.  And, for every successful suicide attempt, there’s 25 others who THANKFULLY didn’t success.  We’ve got an epidemic.  But, you don’t need me to tell you that.  I think that much is crystal clear.  What I do need to remind people, I feel, is that there’s still lots and lots of work that needs to be done before we’re able to claim victory.  Worse, rest assured that for everyone of “us” who are working hard and long to make a difference, there’s just as many if not more of “them” working just as hard and long to negate all of our efforts.

We will win this hard-fought battle.  I have complete confidence in that and can say it with 100% conviction.  However, the victory will not come without a long of hands-on effort.  And, what will, in the end, make the biggest difference will be teens, like Brett Simpson, like Christi O’Connor standing firm as they say to “The Establishment” ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!  Let’s do our part in making this Monster March Against Bullying an overwhelming success!  “Like” their facebook page.  Watch the video.  Share both as often as you can.  The world is changing, and Christi O’Connor is right at the forefront of that change.

Bullying of a Different Color

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I just read an article about racism within the gay community that opened the box of a lot of ugly memories.

I remember my twink days well.  At one point, I was having a fling with another, fellow twink who was white.  It was, well…we were young.  Then, he met this other guy who was slightly older than myself.  And, also white.  They immediately hit it off and started to “fling”, themselves.  Then came the cruising of the clubs.  Then came the phone conversation:  “Well, David and I were talking, and we both decided that we’re too good to waste ourselves on a black guy.”  Needless to say, I’ll never forget that phone call.  Or, the deep hurt I felt from being told I wasn’t good enough because of my skin tone.

I remember, also from my twink days, and after being blown off by my former partner because I was black and, in his own words, unworthy, going to a gay club downtown.  It was a very popular club at the time and was packed to the gills.  Shortly after arriving, I saw him:  my Mr. Right!  Six-feet, lean, blond and blue.  With a smile that wouldn’t quit.  My first thought was “I’m taking him home tonight”.  I made strong eye contact with him while he was, um, working, and we exchanged pleasantries.  “Win!!!”, I thought.  I thought wrong.  At the end of the day, he went home with a man roughly twice my age, at least a half-foot shorter but easily 75-100 lbs heavier. (close your eyes and envision THAT!)  Oh, did I say that he was also white?  So, once again, the reinforcement was there:  I’m inferior because of my skin-tone.

Fast forward to San Francisco, 1986.  I’m no longer a twink, but I’m still young, and still a lean, very handsome (so I was told), athletic man.  Black man.  I had a lot of acquaintances in the Polk Gulch area with whom I socialized with regularly.  One night, five of us had been out just enjoying the evening:  couple of beers, lots of laughs, fun stuff.  One suggested that we go back to his place and have an orgy.  I couldn’t believe my ears!!!!  Everyone was in agreement.  So, off we merrily go.  His apartment was only a few blocks away, on Sutter.  Upon entering his apartment, he turned to me and said “Sorry, you’re not invited.  This is for white guys, only.”  He may as well have pulled out a .45 and shot me in between the eyes.  I cannot even explain how hurt I was, or how low I felt upon hearing that, once again, my skin-tone had rendered me unworthy.(I will say, though, that one of the guys strongly objected to the host’s exhibition of racist ignorance, told the host so, and we had our own fun for the evening.  Still, the damage had been done.)

In this article, they speak of racism within the gay community as if it’s a new trend.  As you have just read, it’s nowhere near a new thing.  It’s a large reason why I disengaged myself from “the gay community” long ago.  Those three instances alone proved to me, beyond a doubt, that I didn’t have a place within the community.  Well, I guess I did as long as I kept myself segregated.  To my disadvantage, in this case, I just happened to be born “color-blind”.  Even in today’s world, it still exists.  Maybe, because of the far-reaching instantaneousness of the Internet, even to a greater extent.  I’ve checked out several of the online dating sites and, lo and behold, the ones I’ve found attractive have profiles that clearly states that I’m not in their realm of attraction.  Even with those who list their wider diversity, “black” is not one of their suitable preferences.

I found it quite telling, this segment taken from the article:

“After having a few drinks with my friend, I walk home through the garment district in midtown Manhattan. I see a gay male couple walking hand in hand down the street… Their relaxed and happy faces turn frightened when they see me, and they immediately cease holding hands and separate. On this late night in an unfamiliar area of the city, I am not seen as a member of the LGBT community. I am black. I am male. I am a threat.”

That’s a snapshot of the real world.

So, what does this have to do with the anti-bullying, stop-teen-suicide campaign that I’ve immersed myself in?  Do you think that all gay teens are white?  Well, the obvious answer is “of course not”.  Like the symbol of our pride, they are every color of the rainbow, so to speak.  So, what happens when young, black Tony falls in love with white Michael only to have Michael tell him “I’m too good to waste myself on a black guy”?  Will that be the straw to break the proverbial camel’s back?  Wouldn’t those words be a form of bullying?  If your answer is yes to either, the battle is even tougher than first realized.  But, to further complicate matters, how exactly does one address this issue?  Do we teach the black and minority LGBT teens that they’ve got yet another battle they’ll have to fight, and this foe will come from within the ranks of the LGBT community?  Well, that will go over well.  Do we tell they the black and minority LGBT teen that (s)he may as well forget about finding a partner outside of their race because, in the LGBT community, white is king?  What exactly is the answer?  We’re begging, no demanding!!!, that the world start treating us, the LGBT community, as equals.  As well it should!  Yet, we don’t even treat our own as equals.

The last piece of the article was, I think, my favorite.  It speaks volumes.

“We all have ‘preferences’ and that’s certainly our right,” he says. “But we don’t have a right to make people feel inferior because they look different from us— any more than straight people have a right to make us feel inferior because of who we choose to love. Not in this day and age. Not after all we’ve gone through. Not anymore.”

We have a lot of work to do.

Written by Ron Kemp

February 20, 2012 at 12:11 am

Nothing at All

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In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that there are still four states, incredibly, that has NO anti-bullying law on their books whatsoever!!  There’s nothing in place to protect the most vulnerable ones.  Those states would be Michigan (big surprise there), Montana, North, and South Dakota.

Michigan, you may recall, was the state that tried to pass an anti-bullying bill with a clause in it that would’ve given a free pass to those who bullied because of “sincere moral and/or religious beliefs”.  And, if that was your first time reading about that, fear not:  we banded together, got a petition signed by tens of thousands, and had THAT clause taken out of the bill. (They don’t get to legally bully in the name of God)  Michigan is also the state where the mayor of one of their cities, Troy to be exact, admitted to making gay slurs on her facebook page.  Apparently, the hearts of the legislators are as cold as Michigan’s weather.

And, as for the Dakotas and Montana, possibly the thinking is that there just isn’t a large enough population to warrant such measures. (the CITY of San Francisco has a larger population that the STATE of N. Dakota!)  Just thinking out loud.  Maybe that isn’t that at all.  Maybe they just don’t care.  I don’t know the answer.  What I do know is that if having anti-bullying laws in place will help even one person, there’s a need for them to be on the books.

(UPDATE)


Of the four states I just mentioned, only South Dakota remains as the only one with no laws in place whatsoever.  North Dakota has just passed their and requires their schools to have policies in place by June 2012.  Montana has a very vague “referral” program in place.  And, Michigan, ah yes Michigan.  If you are interested in the anti-bullying laws in your state, and I think everyone should be, here’s an interactive map with that information.

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