It was one of those days when I wished I once again worked in an office. I pawed through my closet for a purple something, anything on the 20th.
But sitting at my dining room table on my balance ball chair – good for bouncing when the writer’s block strikes – my laptop in front of me, I was completely unsettled.
Was taking part in Spirit Day to remind the world that lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) teens need our support really doing anything if no one could see me show my spirit?
And then I sat there.
It felt like high school all over again.
High school in rural little Sullivan County. Where in the nineties, no one talked about being gay. Where there were no LGBT support groups. Where there was no assurance to kids that it’s OK to be whoever you are, as long as you’re kind, honorable, loyal.
I am not in high school anymore.
You couldn’t pay me to go back.
Because everything I’ve found out in the past few weeks proves Sullivan County high schools haven’t changed.
After the media began reporting on suicide spikes among gay teens, a few weeks ago, I reached out to some counselors I know in Sullivan County schools.
“Is there help out there for gay teens?” I asked. “Are the kids taught specifically that it doesn’t matter who they are, that we’re all human?”
“No,” came the answers. And “not really.”
There’s some general “let’s all play nice kids” talk at some schools, but Sullivan County is still a place where being gay and young is like walking to school with a target on your back because there’s no sign that the opposite is true.
There are no support groups. No tolerance classes.
No sign that gay even exists in Sullivan County.
Child development experts will tell you children are, by their nature, narcissistic. When they see nothing out there affirming that people with similarities exist, they internalize it. Brought up in small towns with no evidence of the true number of gay teens (anywhere from 3 to 10 percent of the population according to statistics), they question themselves instead of their environment. They’re too young, too immature, too sheltered, to look beyond our borders.
In a country where more than a quarter of gay teens are kicked out of their own homes when they come out, where one out of every six gay teens is beaten badly enough to require medical attention, where 28 percent of gay teens are forced to drop out of school because of their sexuality, it can’t just be the kids.
Because kids learn from adults. And so called decent American adults last week called Spirit Day making too much out of nothing. They dared to pin the problem on the media, to pretend that it’s just some crazy kids out there somewhere.
But there are gay teens in Sullivan County. And gay, lesbian and bisexual youth represent 30 percent of all teen suicides in America.
It’s only a matter of time before those two facts collide.
Wearing purple inside my house won’t help. But maybe this will. It’s time for Sullivan County schools to act like it’s 2010. It’s time for Sullivan County to stop pretending. It’s time for Sullivan County to let us raise our kids to be the best they can be – whoever that may be.