Embrace the LGBT community

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Like many of you, I grew up in a small Arkansas town where everybody knew everything about you. That made it difficult for those in the LGBT community to express who they were. If they were lucky, they could hide it. Most of them weren’t that lucky.

I vividly remember one of my classmates being bullied for his sexual orientation from middle school to our senior year of high school. He didn’t come out as gay, but that didn’t mean anything to the bullies. They launched gay slurs at him, asking why he wouldn’t admit to his sexuality. He was 14. He wasn’t sure who he was yet. He certainly wasn’t going to embrace it because someone tagged his locker with slurs.

One day, I noticed he was sitting alone at lunch. The queen of loners, I didn’t see anything wrong with spending time alone. I could tell he wasn’t choosing to do that, though. He was being alienated by our peers, all because he threatened the way they saw the world.

I sat by him. We talked about class assignments and movies and music. I can’t remember our conversation in detail, but he did seem a little happier when lunch was over. Eventually, we graduated. He served in the military, and I went to college.

I had almost forgotten him when he sent me a Facebook message in 2012. In the message, he told me about the bullying he experienced in high school. It was worse than I thought. He jumped from group to group hoping to find friends, he said, but he was bullied and rejected instead. A few kids told him to kill himself. On his worst days, he confessed, that was all he could think about.

He was thinking about it that day I sat down across from him at lunch, he said. It was only one lunch, but it was enough to keep him going.

“Thank you for being there for me,” he said.

I felt like I didn’t deserve that sentiment at all. I mean, I had sat there and watched kids bully him and said nothing for years. I had laughed when someone said “That’s gay” in reference to something they thought was stupid. I was complicit. That one lunch didn’t excuse my silence during all the other days of the year.

Today, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to allow anyone to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I was part of the problem for a long time. I won’t be anymore.

To be clear, nobody deserves to be attacked for expressing their true self. Lesbians are people. Gay men are people. Bisexual men and women are people. Transgender men and women are people. And those who don’t identify as a man or a woman? They’re people, too.

In today’s political environment, my friends in the LGBT community don’t feel safe. They’re afraid of losing their job, or, worse, their life. You don’t have to be part of the LGBT community to help them. Remember, one lunch was all it took to keep my high school friend going.

So what can you do? Treat members of the LGBT community like the people they are. Listen to them. Be there for them. Advocate for their rights the way you would your own.

We are all connected as humans of this world. Let’s act like it.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.