Nothing impresses me more than the courage speech students have to stand up in front of their peers and perform. The following is my Dear Daughter’s original oratory speech from 2012.
She makes me proud, and I hope her words inspire kindness and acceptance in those who read her writing. She placed fourth in sections with this piece, earning her place via judge’s preference.
IT’S NOT ABOUT SEX
It is not about sex. It’s about getting up in the morning. It’s about going to school. It’s about acing that chemistry test. It is not about sex; it’s about being who you are and loving who you want.
Yet for many teens, sexual orientation makes them a target for ridicule, degradation, and harassment.
Lawrence King was such a teen. When he openly admitted his homosexuality, his classmate shot him twice in the back of the head from point blank range. He died in front of the computer as he worked on his English paper. Lawrence was only fifteen.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, known as LGBT, deserve the basic human right to live free from persecution and the subsequent harm that comes from being beaten down and disrespected on a daily basis. They deserve the basic right to live like any other student across America.
Let’s explore how homophobia creates a viscous cycle of bullying, escalation of self-harm, and continuance of behavior that can only be alleviated by education.
Mental Health America states, “Homosexual teens hear gay slurs such as ‘homo’, ‘faggot’, and ‘sissy’ up to 26 times a day.” That’s once every fourteen minutes.
This has a profound impact on a student’s perception of self-worth and future success. According to the organization, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays , “Growing up and getting through high school can be challenging for any student, but LGBT youth too often face additional obstacles of harassment, abuse and violence.”
These difficulties are often under-addressed. A 2009 National School Climate Survey revealed that nearly 85% of LGBT students reported being bullied. More than 64% failed to report it for fear that nothing would be done.
Unsurprising, since we know that bullying for any reason often fails to gain appropriate attention. Consider the case of Gretchen Miller who was bullied for her weight. Gretchen sought help from the principal, only to have her tormentors remain free and able to continue their bullying. Eventually, Gretchen quit school.
The choice to drop out is even higher for LGBT youth who skip school rather than face being ostracized. A missed class quickly turns to missed days. On average, 30% of LGBT students skipped school at least once in the past month compared to only 6.7% of students in a national sample. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network cites bullying for lower GPA’s and higher drop-out rates.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Besides decreased school success, homosexual youth may fall into a pattern of escalating self-harm. They participate in risky activities, and are three times more likely to use illegal drugs or alcohol than their straight peers.
When illicit chemical use no longer dulls the emotional pain of being bullied, LGBT students may inflict physical pain on themselves through cutting or burning. This type of self-harm provides a tangible outlet for the turmoil within.
Still others don’t stop there. Gay Pride Inc. estimates that 1/3 of LGBT youth attempt to take their lives each year.
Kids as young as 11 have decided the abuse was too much. Carl Walker-Hoover was called gay on a daily basis. On April 9th, 2009, he was found dead. Carl had hanged himself. But the thing about Carl: he never openly said he was gay. People just assumed and bullied him to the point where he thought suicide was his only option. Carl never got to truly figure out who he was; he wasn’t given the chance to be himself.
Sometimes bullied youth do more than internalize their despair. They redirect the ridicule onto others or retaliate against their attackers, turning into bullies themselves. Violence is escalated and the perpetual cycle of harassment, prejudice and hate continues.
Like most discrimination, fear drives the way we treat each other. Common sense doesn’t dictate our actions. Education, or the lack thereof, does. The history of prejudice in our country is rich: the Irish, women, Indians, and African Americans.
“What people don’t understand they will torture.”
Though these words were spoken by Mel Piche, a contemporary young lesbian, they could have been spoken by Rosa Parks. Her historic arrest prompted individuals of all races to boycott city bus lines and advocate for the equal rights of all people.
We have a long way to go.
Today, the LGBT community faces fear and misunderstanding. Fear that homosexuals are pedophiles. Fear that all homosexuals do is have sex—all day, with anyone. Fear that homosexuals want to convert us all.
Fear that if we accept those different from us, the moral fabric of society will unravel.
Sound familiar? This fear, this myth, is the very same argument used against abolishing slavery.
Blacks—with their different skin and different traditions—were deemed unworthy of respect and freedom. Their “otherness” granted the close-minded permission to ridicule, degrade and control them.
As history proves, civil rights are not guaranteed. Only through education can we understand that different is not bad. Only through education can myths be dispelled and fears be laid to rest. Only through education can bullying against the LGBT community be stopped.
Educators must be trained to effectively deal with incidences as they occur. In a 2010 report based on a New York City Department of Education initiative, 9 of 10 teachers who participated in the LGBT Educator Training Program changed the way they dealt with bullying, creating a more welcoming and safe school environment for all students, regardless of gender orientation.
According to the 2010 collaborative project between the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, only 4% of principals surveyed reported that training on LGBT issues was provided to staff in their school district. This leaves 96% of schools undereducated.
Student/teacher organizations such as the Gay and Straight Alliance can strengthen the image of a united front within the school. When students and educators no longer stand by as passive participants, bullies lose the upper hand. This will create a new atmosphere. One where respect is expected, accepted and strived for.
Yet we all know teens do not like to listen to authority. We want to figure things out for ourselves-or at least be told by someone reputable, who gets it, and gets what it’s really like.
At fourteen, Jonah used a series of notecards and a video camera to tell his darkest secret. He was gay. He didn’t take it to the school board, he didn’t talk to his friends, he didn’t even tell his mom. He let himself get bullied. The summer before eighth grade, he decided enough was enough. He made a video outlining his experiences. Suicide was an option for him, but Jonah realized he had a million reasons to be here.
By putting his video on the internet, his message touched many lives. People who didn’t think they could make it found their strength after watching this fourteen year old boy find his. Thanks to him, Jonah and so many other people can now love who they want and be happy with who they are.
They will have earned the respect to live free from ridicule, degradation and harassment-at least from themselves.
As you can see, it is not about sex. It’s about understanding, safety, support and education. It’s about the basic human right to live free from fear and prejudice.
IT’S NOT ABOUT SEX—CITATIONS
Lawrence King Shooting: ABC 20/20, October 5, 2011. Jim Dubreuil and Denise Martinez-Ramundo.
Bullying Statistics: Mental Health America, website; Bullying and Gay Youth; Bullying in Schools: Harassment Puts Gay Youth at Risk
School/Discrimination Quote: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, website; http://www.pflag.org/
Bullying Statistics: 2009 School Climate Survey; Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network Downloadable Report
Drop Out Rates: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, website
Suicide Statistics: Gay Pride Inc., website
Carl Walker Hoover: ABC News Online; When Words Can Kill: “That’s So Gay”; April 14, 2009; Susan Donaldson James
Education: LGBT Educator Training Program; GLSEN Report: NYC Respect For All Trainings Increase Staff Competency at Addressing Anti-LGBT Bullying; June 24, 2010.
Johah Mowry Video and Responses Including Mel Piche’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdkNn3Ei-Lg