He mailed me a letter. He didn't think, I'd understand. For days, he wouldn't talk to me except to say "Did you get my letter?"
The letter was written on 2 pages of notebook paper, folded and placed in an envelope with a 25 cent stamp. I anxiously tore into it. What could this be about, what was so important that I had to read it before my friend would talk to me?
It started with "I hope you'll still be my friend after I tell you this..."
What?! What is it?! I kept on reading.
"I can't help who I am, but you deserve to know the truth..."
Oh my god did he kill somebody?!
and there it was at the bottom of the page.
Tears flowed from my eyes with my first thought "how could he think I wouldn't be his friend?!" then "Oh no, he's gonna get AIDS."
It was 1990, and AIDS was on every body's mind. While I knew I couldn't get AIDS just from being his friend, I also knew that as a gay man, it was highly probable that he would get it, and for that I was fearful.
For him, his fear was not in getting AIDS, but it was in getting "outed." Being gay was not talked about openly, except to ridicule those boys that were more feminine as being "gay" or a "fag." Boys that were different were taunted. Girls with short hair were teased and accused of kissing other girls. They were all mocked, and bullied. To "come out" to me was a giant leap of faith for my friend, a commitment to our friendship and a true sign of trust.
I kept my friend's secret through high school. In private, we would talk about which boys were cute, but in public he would have to hide his secret by dating this girl, or taking that girl to Prom. He was there for me when I needed a soft shoulder to cry on, but he hardened his approach when around others. It was hard enough to try to fit in at High School without the added complexity of being gay. As much as he wanted to just be himself, it was better for him to be someone else.
Our world has come so far, since the day I received that letter. It is now common place to see Rainbow flags, men holding hands, lesbian scenes in movies, and Gay characters on TV. Yet, many of our youth still struggle to hide who they are. They still fear the same ridicule and bullying that my friend feared. In recent weeks, we have seen teens that would rather be dead than to be "out." Bullying against gay and lesbian teens is still very very real, and while many of these cases have made headlines, there are still so many that go unnoticed.
It's not just other teens doing the bullying. At my daughters' school, it was a teacher that bullied a lesbian couple by "outing" the girls to their parents because they were seen kissing in the hallway. High School rules still do not allow same sex couples to attend Prom together. Teachers regularly break up contact between gay couples while turning a blind eye to traditional heterosexual displays of affection.
As parents we have taught our children intolerance. We have set the standard for what is acceptable for the sexes at an early age: Pink is for girls, blue is for boys, boys play with cars and girls play with dolls. We think it's cute that a little girl might want to play with blocks, but we guide her towards playing "dress-up," instead. We cringe at the thought of our boys playing with dolls, and we push them towards baseball when they really want to dance.
It's time for a change, the cycle of intolerance starts at home. It starts with us changing our actions. It starts with little things that can make a big difference. It starts with awareness. Teach your children at a young age that they can be who they want, but they must also respect others for who they are. Talk to them about differences. Teach them how it takes many colors to make a rainbow.
Today, I wear the color of the rainbow designated for Spirit day by GLAAD. Today, I wear Purple to celebrate GLBT youth. In memory of the teens that felt too alone in the world to go on, but also as a symbol to those that face the pressures of being a gay teen, a symbol that they are not alone.
My support of gay youth began with a letter that opened a door to me. That letter didn't change who he was, but it changed who I would be.
No one should have to be someone they're not, because they fear being who they are. Show your support today with purple, but let tomorrow be a rainbow.
♪They can say what they like but all I know is everything's gonna be alright♪ (Alicia Keys)