I have known Joey since before he was born. Since before his parents were married or even engaged. Without his parents, The Dean and I would likely never have met.
He is The Dean's first cousin once removed. He is my Facebook friend, and for the past couple weeks, his status updates have been ... well, worrisome.
Now I know why.
Three weeks ago, he took his belt off at school, intending to use it to hang himself in a stairway. A final message, of sorts, to the kids who have been teasing him, bullying him, calling him names.
Because he is gay.
He's known this for some time and came out in middle school. What he has experienced since - including a knife brandished by another student and held to his throat as he is shoved against a locker, indifference and inaction on the part of school officials - is unfathomable to me, as a person and as a parent.
I know all this because he is sharing his story publicly - at 15, he has more strength than I ever will - and encouraging other teens to do the same.
He launched a group on Facebook this week. Equality Project is a place for students to share their stories about bullying, about being different. (Although it's a student group, Joey invites anyone to join in ... even 40 year old relatives like me.)
In a few days, Equality Project has attracted 660 members, many of whom are posting their stories. Boy, are they posting their stories. They are not easy to read. It's one thing to know that bullying happens in schools; it is another to read these raw voices, one after another after another, writing of unimaginable violence.
As a parent, this scares the crap out of me. It is enough to make one lose hope, to feel defeated, to mourn for a generation lost.
For the majority are stories of kids being attacked, brutalized, beaten. Of desperate cries for help, of stories from the bullies themselves - including one who admits to have bullied special needs kids in the past.
What is happening on that Facebook page is both heartbreaking and heartfelt. There seems to be a dynamic at work there, giving kids a sense that they are not alone, that they are not the only one who has been terrorized, that they are not the only one who feels different and strange.
Joey has ambitious plans for Equality Project, to take it national (thanks to Facebook, it kind of is, isn't it), all in the name of encouraging teens to share, to speak up.
To prevent another Joey from taking off his belt and hanging himself in the school hallway.
To be the change they want - and desperately, achingly need - to see in this world.
copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.