In a political realm (especially Texas) dominated by cowards, this man is a giant hero
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project
...part of the national "It gets better" project created by columnist Dan Savage in an attempt to help LGBT teens and young adults get through the misery that is secondary education.
I cried, as will any actual human who watches this incredible display of courage and compassion. And I got angry as well. I got angry that we, strangers to specific communities - in this supposedly "Christian" nation, must so actively intervene to assure our children that they are loved and valued creations of our God.
And then I thought how much wider this is...
I say that not to diminish for one moment the horrific pain inflicted on kids - by their peers, parents, schools, communities, and nation - because of their sexual identity. Nor do I wish to insist that every gay educator come out and be a public mentor. Mr. Burns heroism is part of his identity - but - and this is essential - our identities are ours, for disclosure, description, definition, and our forms of heroism are ours. It is not for "us" - any of us - to insist on some form of "authentic identity" from others. That kind of thinking is its own form of bullying.
But, if we are "educators," and I mean that in the broadest sense, we can speak to and for kids. We can and we must. We can, within whatever identity we, as adults, have crafted for ourselves, find students we can connect with and say, "It gets better."
|School is Hell (as Matt Groening says)|
I coached soccer, about a decade ago, in a high school in a supposedly "good district" (that is, one which got good scores on standardized tests). It was a small school (about 800-900 kids K-12 in a single building), in a small community. And every morning, according to my players, one history/government/economics teacher greeted them by calling them "faggots" because they chose to play this football rather than that other kind (terrifyingly, a Google Search indicated that this guy is now being interviewed for a position as principal of a Colorado high school). Down in the elementary school wing, we had to fight to let youth soccer players - girls and boys - wear their team shirts to school on Fridays. They wanted to do this because the school expected youth football players and youth cheerleaders (down to Kindergarten) to wear their uniforms to school on Fridays. But it was a big fight. As one teacher told me, "we don't want to celebrate differences."
In three years the principal came to half of one game. The Superintendent came to none. The only teachers who came consistently were a Middle School English teacher and the High School theatre teacher. Of course the football stadium would be filled Friday nights with more people than lived in the town.
If soccer players are abused because they are different, if "faggot" is the faculty insult of choice, what chance might a gay student have in that school?
What chance might any "different" student have?
I think I did a pretty good job coaching soccer there. We won more games than we lost. A few players really blossomed into fabulous athletes. We even gave other kids a place to hang out when we played Saturday night games, crowding ourselves onto the tiny "American Football"-sized field so we could play under the lights and offer teens another option besides getting high on the town's tiny beach or hanging out at the gas station's cappuccino machine or at Tans + Tapes across the street (yes, that kind of small town).
But none of that's important. Despite fantasies embraced by many coaches and parents, school sport is not vocational education. What was important, whether as soccer coach, or Odyssey of the Mind coach, or as "the tech adult" for theatre productions, was the ability to share the days with kids who often lacked community support.
mostly standing around waiting for adult instruction, or a touch too uncomfortable with print to learn plays by reading them, or a touch too unhappy at home for any of a thousand reasons, or a touch too excited to sit in a classroom for hours on end. Maybe, even, that some of them had intrinsic personal desires which weren't welcomed in "a place like this."
And to be able to see these kids, and to tell them that I once had these kinds of problems, but that I had managed to survive. And that they could survive too. That, yes, "it gets better." That school is often hell. It is far too often a cruel hierarchical place where conformity and compliance is worshipped by the adults in control, but, it is also over at age 18, and then you can escape. You can leave. And you never have to come back.
I think about those conversations, and they are/were the most important things I did/do as an educator. Whether it was ordering pizzas I really didn't need on a Sunday night just to talk with my team's Libero who worked 40 hours/week while his mom lay sick in bed, or meeting students this semester who feel abused by certain professors. "Hang on," "I understand, believe me, I understand," "It gets better."
We can fight bullying, and we must. We can fight the roots of bullying, in every class, in every activity, and we must.
But while we are doing that we need to do something more. We must look into the shadows - the shadows that are there in every classroom, in every school hallway, in every community - and we must crouch down in those shadows with the children, the adolescents, the young adults who hide there, and we must tell them what we understand - what we have learned through our nightmares - and we must say, "it gets better."
- Ira Socol
I actually began writing The Drool Roomfor certain "damaged" boys on my team at that high school. In "cleaned up" form I shared some of the stories. And I think I said something much like... "it gets better."