This is one of those blog posts that has nothing to do with my life as a mom, my life as an adoptive parent, or the small and incredible being who is currently asleep in her swing (again). Unfortunately, this post has to do with a tragedy. I have been in such an incredibly positive place in my life and so it can be tempting to push thoughts of tragedy aside. To not concern myself with them. To let other people worry about them. But then there are some that seep into every corner of my mind and bang around in my head until I am willing to think about them. This is one of those.
The students in my fifth grade classroom will go onto to the local junior high next year and then three years after that, they will feed into the local high school. That high school suffered a terrible loss this past week. One of their students committed suicide. Towards the end of this week, I found out that the student who took his own life had come out as gay on Facebook shortly before he killed himself.
Now I don't know anything about this young man. I do not pretend to know his story, I do not pretend to know the circumstances that led him to believe that not being alive was the only option he had left. I do not pretend to know what he was going through or what led to his suicide. But because these stories seem to follow the same tragic pattern, I have to imagine that it had something to do with his coming out or with his being gay. And that just breaks my heart. It makes me cry tears for a boy I never even knew and for his family and friends who will not get to see him figure out how to happily live an open life as the person he was meant to be.
But more than that, it makes me angry. Angry at myself. It makes me angry because here I have been these past few weeks, watching the news coverage of the Supreme Court marriage rights cases and feeling so incredibly positive about how far our country has come. Here I have been watching my friends' Facebook profile pictures rapidly change to the red equality sign and feeling as if we were truly in a different place as a nation. Here I have been looking at Millie and thinking about how happy it makes me to know that she is going to grow up in a different place where people won't make fun of her for having two moms. And here I have been thinking about how much easier it must be for kids today to come out and be open and be honest without as much fear as we all had when we were younger.
And then you hear something like this. And you realize that it is still not easy. There are still kids, right here in our own communities, who feel as living as an openly gay person is too hard to even continue living. You realize that no matter what the news might cover, kids still feel the pressure to be just like everyone else. And you realize that even if the entire country tells you it is okay to be gay, it just takes one comment from a family member or a friend or someone you don't even know that well to destroy your sense of self-worth and self-acceptance.
It has been amazing to watch the attitude to the LGBT community change in this country. It has been rapid and powerful and awe inspiring. But the thing is, it can also have this dangerous side of effect of convincing us that everything is okay. It can lull us into a false sense of security where we start to forget to worry about our youngest community members whose struggles are still as great and as difficult as any of our struggles ever were.
I truly thought that the community that I teach in was different. That it was somehow protected from the difficulties and challenges that can make a young person feel as if being gay is a reason to kill yourself. I thought that because I, as an adult, was able to be out and feel accepted by the community as a teacher, that it must be an easy place for kids to come out in as well. But then I think back to just a few years ago when I made the decision to come out to my students' parents and then to the students themselves. I was so scared. I was so scared of becoming the gay teacher instead of just a fifth grade teacher who loves her students. I created these images in my mind of parents storming into the principal's office and demanding that their children be pulled out of my classroom. I imagined angry phone calls and I believe that I even imagined picket signs outside of my school. I was a grown woman and I remember worrying about my students laughing at me. It cost me many nights of lost sleep and many moments of panic. And yes, that was all unnecessary worry. To my knowledge, the parents have been nothing but supportive and the children themselves have restored my belief in the goodness of people time and time again.
But still, I worried about it. So how could I ever let myself believe that it would be easy for a kid to face the same things? How could any of us let ourselves forget what a true struggle it is to come out and how dangerous it can be, even when you are in the safest of communities? Of course it is still a struggle. Of course it is still going to be a terrifying experience for any young person. Of course they care less about what is happening outside of the Supreme Court than about what is happening around their own lunch tables and dinner tables. I am angry at myself for forgetting that.
I wish somehow that we could get the message down to the young people struggling to come out. I wish we would let them know that this country is in a good place, that people are changing what they think, that even if your parents don't get it right away, if you give them time they might come around and even if they don't, you will find other people who will love you for exactly who you are.
I believe that the It Gets Better Campaign has done wonders for this country. I believe that the Trevor Project has given kids a place to turn when they have nowhere else to go. I believe that there are so many good things that are happening in our schools and in our homes. And still, sometimes it feels as if it isn't enough. These stories have become too common. These deaths have become too familiar. And it feels so urgent and so big and so overwhelming.
So I guess that all we can do is to remind the children in our lives that we love them for exactly who they are. I guess all that we can do is to continue to be exactly who we are as adults so that they have examples all around them of people who are living as their authentic selves, no matter what that might mean. I guess that all we can do is to continue to love the people in our lives fully and completely and remind those people every day that they are perfectly themselves and that is the best that they can ever do.