The video below was shared by a friend on Facebook. I lost contact with my friend when I left home for college and I consider it one of the great gifts of this age of social media that I've been able to reconnect with him and several other of my friends that I'd lost contact with over the years.
What's unique about this particular friend is that he is gay. Back in the early '80s when we were in high school he wasn't yet officially out, and to my recollection we never discussed his or anyone else's sexual preferences. But after watching this video I'm left to wonder if I ever made any hateful or harmful comments about "fags", to wonder if I ever hurt his feelings because I said things that teenage boys say about gay people because, quite frankly, we're scared to death someone might think we're gay. I wonder if my own insecurity led me to truly hurt someone that didn't do anything to deserve it.
For those who don't want to watch this video because you disagree with the gay or lesbian lifestyle I would urge you to think about something; try to remember how insecure, confused and lost you felt when you were a teenager. If you were a straight boy you were terrified that your "manliness" would somehow be questioned, and you were petrified that you would be rejected by the girls you were interested in. Now imagine how insecure you'd feel if you realized that you weren't like most of the other boys, that you were very different than your parents in a most fundamental way. The teasing and taunting that a straight kid who's not a part of the in crowd receives is bad enough, and we can only imagine how much worse it is for a kid who's trying to come to terms with being gay.
The speaker in this video is right that we need to help stop the bullying and cruelty that children face every day. This is nothing new and it's a problem that I think every generation has dealt with, but that doesn't mean we can't do something about it. I think part of the solution is treating bullying at schools in much the same way that fighting has been treated. From what I see at my kids' high school, fights are much less common today than they were when I was in school and I think that's a result of the "boys will be boys" thinking being replaced with "we will not tolerate any fighting" thinking.
The larger part of the solution lies with parents. I'm sure that in the sanctity of our own homes many of us say things that we'd never say in public. Maybe it's a slightly inappropriate joke that we think is harmless, or maybe it's a diatribe against "those people", but without really thinking about it we send our kids a message that people are different and somehow beneath us. I'm confident that in many homes the inappropriate jokes are accompanied by that old Seinfeld line "not that there's anything wrong with that," but the message is still being sent. I'm also confident that in many homes there are overt and vehement statements made against groups that the parents don't agree with, but that does not relieve them of the responsibility of teaching their kids that no matter how they feel about that other child's race, sexual orientation, etc. they cannot tease or bully that child.
Of course we live in the real world, and no matter what we say as parents our kids will be kids, and they'll say hurtful things to other kids so they can look cool or somehow feel more important. That's life, but as parents what we can do is come down hard on them and let them know it's not acceptable behavior. We can also take a look at ourselves and recognize our own weaknesses, our own human frailty, and endeavor to do better.
Personally I only hope that those I may have hurt or offended will forgive me.