White explains to the rapt youngsters that just last month he was bullied.
“I was coming from the store and three guys wanted to mess with me. From the kicks to the punches to the name calling, it all hurt. But through a lot of people and a lot of support, they helped me,” he said. “Those guys that wanted to bully me are now in a lot of trouble. Bullying can get you in a world of trouble. It’s no game, it’s no joke and it hurts.”
Four males have been charged in the attack on White and the Atlanta Police Department and FBI are investigating the beating as a possible hate crime because White’s assailants repeatedly called him “faggot.”
“Everyone has a right to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do,” White said simply, not going into any details about his incident.
“No one should be messed with and no one should be teased because of who they are and what they are doing. Everyone is free to be what they want.”
Before finishing his 15 minute talk, White asked the students for a favor.
“Can you help me with something?” he asked.
“Yes,” they responded.
“Can you guys help me with telling others to stop bullying?”
“Yes,” they answered in unison.
Veda Crump, one of the Pre-K teachers, said she had seen what happened to White on TV and because he has a cousin in the class she thought it would be a good fit to have him speak. She also is getting him involved in a teen program that addresses bullying to be held at Morehouse College in April.
‘Speak Out with Brandon’ to tackle violence against LGBT people
Greg Smith, executive director for the HIV Intervention Project, came up with the idea of the “Speak Out with Brandon” campaign to help LGBT victims of violence, including intimate partner violence, White explained.
“We will allow them to have a voice,” he said of victims. “We want to help them get on their feet, to show there are people who care.”
Smith said Speak Out with Brandon, still in its infancy, is partnering with the Anti-Violence Project based in New York.
“We’re going to start off small. What we found with Brandon’s case is there is a lack of resources,” Smith said. “As we launch the campaign we want to invite the community to become involved and volunteer.
“We haven’t started fundraising yet. But it’s exciting. We’re tweaking the Anti-Violence Project’s infrastructure for an Atlanta and Southeast model,” Smith said.
Apology accepted from Change Atlanta?
Change Atlanta, a group of community activists including many gay leaders, at first supported White in the days following his attack. But after a successful rally in the Pittsburgh community to show solidarity with White, as well as the neighborhood where the crime took place, Change Atlanta’s leadership went on CBS Atlanta and accused White of lying when he said at a press conference he did not know his attackers.
Devin Barrington Ward, 21, one of the accusers, issued a public apology, telling GA Voice that he was a young man still learning how to become a leader.
“I’m working on mending my relationship with the community and most importantly with Brandon,” Ward told GA Voice last month. “I hope he’s able to understand I’m only one year older than he is. And I’m willing to continue working on relationships, coalition building. We’re not always going to get along, but if the community will allow me a seat at the table I would like to be there.”
White, however, is not accepting what he said is a “public apology.”
“Devin didn’t apologize to me. Devin apologized to the public. He made his accusations to the public, he apologized to the public. There is no apology for me to accept. He was not talking about me. I have no clue who he was talking about,” White said.
Another activist, Gary Nichols, also turned to CBS Atlanta to accuse White of taunting his attackers and said White wanted to expose them for being on the “down low,” or secretly gay. He said he felt “duped” by White but days later also took back his claims via Facebook.
“I am not a part of Change Atlanta … I will say one thing, the CBS interview was a low blow and creative video editing. For myself, it was not a great moment; because I do not like to get on television or do the politics thing,” Nichols said on Facebook on March 4.
White said it had been hard dealing with rumors that are being spread about him.
“It’s been a roller coaster, especially now that so many rumors are coming out,” White said. “Why would you try to destroy my character? I think if you’re going to make a statement about something you should know all the details.”
Smith said he wants to focus on the new anti-violence campaign but knows there is division within the community.
“Our focus has always been anti-violence. As a community we have a common interest. The truth [about the attack] will come out in court,” Smith said.
“The series of events has caused so much community division when we were all on one accord, now we’re all singing a different song. Once a rumor is out there it speaks to the internalized homophobia we have. We even get played by the media in the scheme of things,” Smith said.
Moving on, dealing with notoriety
White and Smith met with U.S. Rep. John Lewis in Atlanta shortly after the attack and White described him as “down to earth.”
“He’s so nice. He’s a public figure, but he’s very down to earth. It was very comforting talking to him. He’s been through a lot. It was very nice of him to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with us,” White said.
And Smith said “Speak Out with Brandon” shared Lewis’ message that no one should be beaten for who they are.
“He said when he saw the video it reminded him of when he was beaten during the civil rights movement. No one should be attacked for who they are. That’s the message we are trying to bring to people,” Smith said.
In addition to picking up speaking engagements, White said he recently started back to work at a home nursing company and expects to enroll back in school at Georgia State University.
“I’m bettering myself. I’m actually taking bigger steps than what I was before,” he said.
But because his face was all over the TV for many weeks, people readily recognize him in Atlanta. People approach him at the grocery store, in restaurants and on the street, he said. Those are still frightening situations.
“My biggest thing is having people approach me. I’m still very sensitive. People walk up to you, and you never know who the person is. It’s very scary,” he said.
Top photo: Brandon White, 20, who was brutally beaten in southwest Atlanta Feb. 4, has started a new anti-violence campaign. (by Dyana Bagby)