October 1, 2010

Things That Matter

I feel very lucky to have grown up where I did - in a community designed to be inclusive for people from all walks of life (though whether that has been a success or not is open for discussion), but it wasn't until I reached college that I knew anyone who was (openly) gay. I never thought much about it when I started making new friends in college that there would be people who were gay or bi or lesbian. It didn't matter to me. What mattered was who these people were and who I was when I was around them. Working in theatre (and in my everyday life) I continued to meet more and more people who were LGBTQ. They were (and are) my friends and I never once cared about their sexuality. I was/am proud to know so many people who are different from me, and I truly believe that knowing them has made my life richer.

I was aware that my personal opinion - that who you love doesn't matter -  wasn't always one that was shared by others in the world. Realizing the extent to which some people felt about homosexuality didnt really hit me until the Fall of 2002, my college theatre department produced "The Laramie Project." The play, and subsequent movie,  centered around the death of Matthew Shepard, a young man (22) who was brutally beaten and left to die on a fence post in Laramie, WY.

The play affected me. Watching rehearsals nearly every day and seeing the final product hit me over and over again the amount of hatred that is out there in the world. My college community came closer when a few months later the Westboro Baptist Church came to visit my college. You may have heard of this group - they like to picket nearly everything with signs with anti-everything messages. We paraphrased a line ("hate is not a Laramie value") from the play and made t-shirts with the phrase "Hate is not a Hartford value" and a rainbow heart on them. Standing at the entrance to campus, I remember thinking that it was simply unfair for anyone to hate someone else simply because of who they were. To think that bullying could have ended the lives of people I cared about was just unfathomable.

That was 8 years ago, and we are no closer to ending hate in this world than we were back then.

I read an article a few days ago about a student at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide following an incident where his roommate broadcast Tyler's encounters with another male student via a webcam and twitter.This story is sad on so many levels, not the least of which is the fact that this is not an isolated incident.

Every day young people from across the country are teased, tormented, tortured, ridiculed, and hurt by their friends, classmates, peers, families, and strangers simply because of who they love. 

This is appalling.

We live in a country founded on the principals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I don't understand why anyone would prevent another human being from having the same opportunities that they have come to expect.

Something has to be done. It doesn't matter if you are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning your own sexuality, NO ONE deserves to feel hurt or alone or to feel that they would be better off dead.

In the last three weeks there have been more than a half-dozen suicides by young people as a result of bullying, and those are just the kids we know about. There are no doubt countless more who have contemplated or committed suicide because of how others have made them feel.

It breaks my heart.

All we can do... all anyone can do... is reach out to others and tell them that it is ok to be whoever they want to be. To love who they want to love. There are resources available out there if you're feeling lost and/or confused. Maybe by talking about it to our friends, our children, our community will stop more lives from being lost.

On her TV show recently, Ellen DeGeneres spoke out on this very topic, and it's worth the viewing.