Richard Blanco’s “One Today” is a poem of unity and a statement against prejudice. The first line, “One sun rose on us today,” echoes this sentiment. Blanco, who was chosen to write this for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, is no stranger to prejudice, having grown up as the gay son of Cuban parents who were exiled under Fidel Castro’s regime. Unfortunately, the day he dreams of is still far away because bullying has only grown worse in recent decades.
A 2002 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III reported that 12 percent of gay men reported suicide attempts, with 70 percent of this group under the age of 25. The study found that if the respondant faced repeated anti-gay harassment before the age of 17, he is 52 percent more likely to attempt suicide than men who did not. Another study, based on surveys conducted between 2006 and 2008 involving 32,000 Oregon eleventh graders, found that LGBT teens living in conservative counties were 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those living in more liberal ones. However, statistics can only do so much for an argument, so it’s prudent to look at specific cases.
In a case that supports the results of the second study, Zachary Toomay, a high schooler from California, reported that he became depressed during his junior year when other students “ostracized” him for being vocal about gay rights. He went to school in a mostly Republican county. That being said, gays face harassment in every county. However, both the study and specific cases suggest that the behavior is partially cultural and should be addressed more strongly in counties that appear more prone to it.
There is another issue that must be addressed in this discussion, though, and that is the harassment and bullying of LGBT students by school administrators. In October of 2012, students at Celina High School, located in the center of one of the most conservative districts in Ohio, celebrated “Twin Day” by wearing shirts reading “Lesbian 1” and “Lesbian 2.” School officials made the students change out of them deeming them inappropriate. The brother of one of the students who wore the shirts told reporters that his “sister got yelled at and screamed at and was basically told she was unwanted at the school because she was gay.” Now, these disparaging remarks did not come out of the mouths of students but of school administrators. The school alleged that the only reason they made the girls change shirts is because they were political and disruptive, but other students were allowed to wear pro-life and pro-Romney shirts. In other words, it was ok to be disruptive and controversial but only if you are in the majority. Sorry, but that’s not how a society should work.
Students aren’t the only ones who are targeted by school officials though. In May of 2012, English teacher James Yoakley was reassigned from Lenoir City High School to Lenoir City Middle School, in what some have labeled a retaliatory move, after Yoakley stood up for gay and atheist students. Yoakley, who oversaw the newspaper and the yearbook, complained when an article supporting the rights of atheists was shot down, much to the chagrin of some people at the school. Then, at a later date, Yoakley allowed the publication of a profile of a student in the yearbook. The profile, titled “It’s OK to be gay,” was about the student’s decision to come out as homosexual in the eighth grade. The ACLU and other legal groups often deal with cases like this, but they can only pursue legal action against so many school districts.
It is clear that a change of culture is needed before this harassment is going to subside. However, the first step to defeating these bullies is to unite. Just as Hobbes said in Leviathan, “The weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest by confederacy with others.” I applaud people like Jacob Rudolph of Parsippany, N.J., who came out while delivering a speech to his entire school, because letting people know that you stand with them is the first step toward uniting as one force — one unwavering force — that can ward off harassment and abuse at the hands of base individuals.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.