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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

Junior Moment

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wearing purple for a reason

Most days, I don't put much thought into what I wear. I grab the least wrinkled shirt and pair of pants, add a belt and pair of shoes that match and I'm out the door.

But Wednesday, I joined millions of people across the nation and beyond as I chose to wear purple in memory of individuals who have killed themselves after being bullied and harassed by peers who thought they were gay.

In recent months, seven teenage boys have taken their lives after being bullied for that reason. Government officials, celebrities and other public figures have come out in support of teens who believe they are gay or are questioning their sexuality. The It Gets Better Project is encouraging adults to share their stories with youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

That campaign shares that LGBT students are at least twice as likely to be bullied or harassed and 90 percent of them have been; LGBT kids are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers and one-third of them have done so; and LGBT youth with "highly rejecting" families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are accepted by their families.

There is no question that the topics of suicide and bullying -- especially when linked to sexual orientation -- are hot topics right now.

Some people don't want to talk about it because they think doing so would endorse homosexuality.

Regardless of a person's stance on homosexuality or gay rights, I believe we should send a message to bullies that it is not okay to harass people -- whether they seem gay or not -- and let bullied youth know that life does get better and there is light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train.

This stance is coming from someone who once opposed a change in Fort Dodge's human rights code that protects individuals based on perceived or actual sexual orientation because it appeared to single out individuals.

The chair of the Human Rights Commission shared she would have preferred a clause protecting all individuals from discrimination and harassment regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation but that the commission is required to establish protected groups.

That explanation was enough to convince me that the human rights code should be amended in that way and it was.

I still believe that all people, whether in the minority or not, deserve to be protected and that is why I am willing to take a public stance on the issue.

Some say being bullied is a part of life and even quote "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Others respond that phrase can become, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can crush my spirit to the point that they cause me to hate who and what I am; and exhausted from the constant droning of how despicably unacceptable and worthless I am I just can't stand the abuse any more and I kill myself."

Simply put, not everyone is strong enough to confront their harassers, especially if they feel they are alone in the effort.

A lawyer I know questioned, "What good is it going to do to wear purple if people are not aware of their existing rights and remedies under the law?"

He has a point. Young people need to realize they have the law on their side. If bullies won't respond to simple requests to stop or discipline from school administrators, perhaps legal action needs to be taken.

Yet another person said being bullied is "just one of the many dangerous homosexuality brings to those who practice it."

But, kids don't even have to be practicing homosexuality to be targeted for "being gay." And we all know how ruthless kids can be. The focus should be that bullying and harassment is never OK regardless of the reasons.

So, what should we do?

Those with children should let them know they are loved, so they know bullying will not be tolerated or if they are being bullied, they know there is something to live for.

Those of us without children should still speak out for those who are too shy to speak for themselves and assure those who are targets that life does get better. If we know individuals in those positions, I suggest mentoring them.

In short, it all comes back to loving our neighbors as ourselves regardless of who are neighbors are or how they identify themselves.

Gabe Licht
Junior Moments