‘‘If he wasn’t gay or mentally ill, he probably wouldn’t have committed suicide,” she whispered after the workshop. “It’s truly heartbreaking when it happens.”
The teacher’s words stuck in my mind as I drove home. I had spent the day with other Jer’s Vision volunteers facilitating workshops on addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying, among other topics, at a school just outside Ottawa.
People don’t commit suicide because they are mentally ill or gay. They commit suicide because they are being bullied on a daily basis and are being made to feel unwelcome in their school community. I know because I was there. I remember reporting bullying to teachers, parents, administrators; I walked away, fought back and ignored it. I tried everything and it never got better.
I remember sitting in science class as Mike made fun of me; everyone heard, even the teacher, and no one said anything. For them it was a joke; for me it wasn’t funny. For them it was 30 seconds they could forget; for me it was a moment I would never forget.
I couldn’t live like that anymore. I couldn’t handle another joke, another punch. All I wanted to do was escape, but there was nowhere to go. Suicide seemed like my only option.
What saved me was Jessica standing up for me in science class and telling Mike to stop. It was the first time anyone had stood up for me. I remember feeling valued. It was amazing.
I wonder if Mike would have made fun of me if he had learned about the existence of same-sex families when he was in kindergarten. I wonder if he actually hated gays or if he had just never met one and didn’t know what to do when a friend outed me in high school.
When Mike later apologized, I asked him. He said he never meant to hurt me and that it was just a joke. He said he never knew anything about gays, and it never occurred to him to find out or understand. “It’s not like we talked about it at school, it never came up in any curriculum,” he wrote to me on Facebook.
That, right there, is the solution. We need to talk about it. We need to do more than just tell people to stop saying, “That’s so gay.” We need people to understand where those words come from and why they are so offensive. We need people to recognize the community behind the word and be engaged in addressing the hate that we as LGBTQ people face.
For me, that’s why this is the next phase of our movement, the work we need to do in our community. We need to do outreach and engage with people who are unaware — teach them about our community, history and lives.
Every day, volunteers at Jer’s Vision go to schools and share stories with students, teachers and parents. We support the work of rainbow alliances and diversity clubs. We also support the International Day of Pink by providing schools and communities with resources to celebrate diversity and start dialogue on how they can make their schools and communities safer places.
We need help. We need adults to mentor us and support the work we do by volunteering with youth in our community and donating to youth causes.
More than that, we need to revive the movement. I remember when same-sex marriage was up for debate, our community united together for the cause.
This month, volunteers at Jer’s Vision will be calling MPs to lobby their support for Randall Garrison’s trans rights bill. Others will work on new resources for Jewish communities and new programs for rural communities.
Get involved, make a difference and care. We need your help mentoring the youth of tomorrow.
Celebrate diversity with us at the Jer’s Vision/Day of Pink Gala on Wednesday, April 11 at 6:30pm at Tabaret Hall (75 Laurier Ave E), where we will recognize Jack Layton and Rick Mercer for their contributions to LGBTQ activism. It is a free event. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.