Friday, January 22, 2010

Be the Change

"Be the change you want to see in the world ..." ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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.


Jessica said...

Good morning! There's an award waiting for you on my blog - cheers!

Anonymous said...

Oh Melissa, this is so important and so relevant. God bless Joey for standing up to be heard. And those who will raise their voices with his. And yes, especially those of us who will listen and be the change.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Wow! What a powerful message.

I love that Ghandi quote, BTW, and have a mug with that on it.

Bullying is definitely something that persists through the years. I was subjected to bullying, too, and not for anything other than that I read all the time, wrote in my notebooks, and wasn't terribly social!

Also, my parents had rather unusual beliefs!

Read all about it in my book Web of Tyranny!

Liz said...

A freshman at our town's high school hanged himself a few months ago. Mother was home, two sisters home. He went downstairs and hanged himself from the Boflex (or some piece of exercise equipment." He'd been bullied at school, horribly, it transpired. He was on life support for about 5 days. It is an absolute heartbreak. As Kristen said, God bless Joey.

Niksmom said...

God bless Joey for what he is doing. Maybe it will help prevent more such situations like this one:

Sadly irnoic that you would post this today and that Robert Rummel hudons tweeted about this news story in TX. It's not known if the child in the story was being bullied at school, but he certainly felt he had no options.

Heartbreaking and frightening.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Thanks, everyone. I'll pass along your comments and make sure Joey sees them.

ghkcole said...

Tell Joey we all send support, and to hang in there, stay strong, because HS is temporary, and there are many open minded, good, kind supportive people in the world, waiting to be his community, in college and beyond. There are people who will need him and his leadership. Thank you for sharing.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Thank you for posting this... what a coincidence, just finished the YA novel The Hate List... good on Joey!

Could I post a link to your post when I do my review of the Hate List please? (while the Hate List wasn't about sexual orientation, but it was about bullying at school).

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Christa, absolutely ... I'd love for you to post the link. Joey's group is about bullying and discrimination in all forms, and in for all reasons. I'll mention the book to him, too, as it is probably one he would be interested in. Thanks so much!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This is a heartbreaking story, Melissa. Bullying in school is becoming more and more prevalent ... for so many "reasons" (because of course there is no reason for bullying, only excuses).

This story could have had a much worse ending. Joey is incredibly strong and I'm glad to know he's reaching out and fighting back in the way he is. I hope the Facebook group gets a lot of attention and brings some help/support to those who need it.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Thanks Melissa - the post is

Best of luck to Joey! He is brave and not alone!

Nymeth said...

Sending Joey all my love. I'm so glad he and others who go through the same found a way to support one another. The group is a wonderful idea.

~ellen~ said...

On his podcast yesterday Dan Savage spoke about bullying. Just recently a gay high school boy, after being brutally bullied, did hang himself.

Dan said that the one message he so wanted to give kids in high school who are being bullied is: IT GETS BETTER. To communicate that to kids, he is setting up a YouTube channel for happy adult gays to make video messages to assure bullied gay teens that things will be better eventually, and there's a lot to live for.

If you're not familiar with Dan Savage, he has a sex/love advice column and a podcast. It is exceedingly Not Safe For Work, but if you're at home and you Google Savage Lovecast you'll find it easily. :)