Friday, October 19, 2012

I'm wearing purple today, and so should you

Today is Spirit Day, a day for everyone to take a stand against bullying and to support LGBTQ youth, who are so often the victims of bullying. And you can show your support by wearing purple.

I've always thought one of the worst aspects of any kind of discrimination is that the victims are the ones responsible for confronting and eradicating it.

Seriously, think about. When you are discriminated against, you have less power. And that means you start from behind.So you are always fighting an uphill battle.

But when others join your fight -- when people who are not the victims of discrimination take on YOUR fight -- it gets easier. And eventually, it gets better. Because it snowballs.

More voices join in pointing out how wrong discrimination is. More voices object to demeaning jokes and images. More voices speak up for what is right. And the voices of intolerance and bullying either get converted, or get quieter.

I know it can be scary. Confronting anyone is hard, and it is especially hard when it comes from people in authority. It might be a teacher. The captain of the football team. Your family. Or even an elected official or a candidate.

The first time that I, as a public figure, was attacked as a lesbian, I had already been confronting discrimination for years. I was running for public office at the time. LGBT rights was a key part of my platform. I had a track record of fighting against bigotry. I was one of the founders of Cry Out! which eventually became Cry Out/Act Up! I had coordinated media outreach for the March on Washington for LGBT rights. And I was working as part of a core strategy group to add sexual orientation to the Pittsburgh Human Relations law.

Of course, I had been "Dyke-baited" before, but it was mostly by anti-abortion, anti-ERA picketers who believed devoutly in harassment. But when it came during a campaign, from one of my opponents in a part of the community that had a reputation for being hostile to the LGBT community, I was unprepared.

How could I stand up for my core beliefs, yet also not pretend to be something I was not?  How could I keep faith with the LGBT community at the same time keeping faith with my heterosexual marriage and the husband I dearly loved? I couldn't disavow my lesbian sisters, nor could I disavow my husband. And I had to answer the attack without doing either.

As I got up to respond, it hit me. This was bullying, pure and simple. And it was an attempt to force me off my message, onto the defense, and perhaps out of politics. And I finally knew deep in my soul what every young lesbian, gay man, bisexual, and transgender student felt everyday of their lives.

So I stood up. I took a deep breath. And I spoke out.

"I doesn't matter what my sexual orientation is. But my opponent's question reveals a lot more about him that it does about me," I said. "Because he's a bully. And he's a bigot. He is trying to distract you, and make you afraid. Because he thinks appealing to fear and bigotry is a way to win elections.

"He may be right, but I sure hope not. And I think that you, the voters, are smarter than that.

"Don't vote for me because you think I'm straight. Or because you think I'm a lesbian. I want your votes, but more than that, I want us to leave bullying and name calling behind, and support and love all of our family and friends, gay or straight."

The room was quiet when I finished, and no one clapped. But it didn't matter. I was at peace with myself. And that night I had a very small taste of the horrid behavior too many LGBT youths have to endure. And I knew how very important it was for allies to speak out forcefully.

So join me in wearing purple for Spirit Day. If you've never spoken out before, it's a great first step. And it's the least you can do to put an end to bullying and bigotry.  

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