The topic of teens and bullying came up in conversation with friends last weekend at the Dogwood Festival, when someone posed the question, “Do you think kids are meaner now than ever, or do they simply have more tools to use?”
My response was that kids aren’t meaner, but it’s social media that has changed the game. While I was in the closet in high school, rumors began that I was a lesbian. I wasn’t ready to come out and was able to squash those rumors with a big denial and a public date with a boy.
Had the seed of those rumors been planted online, I have no idea how I would have handled the outcome, and am sure suicide would have seemed like a way to end the anxiety.
Kenneth’s criticism was public and he didn’t have the luxury of living enough years to realize it does get better, and that anyone who was uncomfortable with his sexuality as a kid may grow up and act differently later.
Just before Kenneth’s death, an LGBTQ center in Phoenix announced it was offering a high school curriculum for bullied and homeless youth. Called Q High, the program will allow those who have dropped out of school due to bullying earn a high school diploma.
How sad that at the moment Kenneth felt he was drowning and had nowhere to turn, a potential lifesaver was floating just a few states away.
Q High is not the first high school geared toward gay youth in the country. Since 1985 Harvey Milk High School in New York has been a safe haven for students who are unable to succeed in a mainstream high school. Their success shows in a 92 percent graduation rate.
Is a gay high school the answer? I don’t know. What I do know is the only kids who would be able to transfer to Harvey Milk or Q High are those kids who have supportive parents. Unfortunately, many parents are unknowingly raising closeted and scared gay kids, as well as spineless bullies and their closed-mouth enablers. I have to take responsibility for these children.
While we are busy fighting for legal marriage and protection at the workplace, we can’t forget that there is a new type of battleground for our survival in schools.
Like Kenneth, Jamey Rodemeyer of New York, killed himself after he came out last year at the age of 14. One of our mottos is to be “Out & Proud.” We got them to the out, but failed in continuing to teach them to be proud for it.
Kids are dying, and continue to die, for being gay. Officials would be quick to count the bodies in an accident or outbreak of disease, but I wish we could see the death toll for the epidemic of ignorance.
I apologize to Kenneth, Jamey, Tyler, James, Brenda, Dora, Leslie, Hart, Denice, Thomas, Justin, Bobby, Ryan, Jamie, William, Kim, Alexander, Kent, Arthur, Mike, Alan, James, Jim, Tobi, and the countless others that don’t make the news.
I was proud of you, and am sorry you never knew it.
Melissa Carter is also a writer for Huffington Post. She broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in Atlanta and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCarter