October 17th, in Chillicothe, Ohio a teenage boy was jumped and brutally beaten by his classmates because of his perceived queer sexual orientation. One boy attacked the 15 year old freshman while a second filmed the incident. The video has gone viral, but since I tend to find the promotion of such things without the express consent of those involved to be exploitative and sickening you will not find it on this blog (no matter how ‘moving’ it may be to the audience looking on from the safety of the present). The story didn’t break until a few days ago, and just after it did another attack happened in the central Ohio town of Westerville. We talk about bullying a lot now days, but what do we actually do about it? Facebook blasts, Tumblr reblogs, and attention from national organizations are good for visibility but how can we touch the reality of those who are out in literal fields battling oppression and violence?
Three weeks ago: I cut through the Appalachian hills of my beautiful Ohio. On my way home from a gig, I planned a somewhat impromptu pit stop to visit a dear friend and activist colleague who lived in Chillicothe. I drove into the town, taking in the Fall air and quaint scenery through my open window. I turned the corner toward the small town “Main Street” and was immediately hit with muffled shouts from the street: “What…. pink hair! Fucking gay! …Sick!” Not five minutes later it happened again, this time from a passing truck. It’s the same every time. You feel it in your gut; the panic and fear washes over you leaving behind tough-guy thoughts and extreme hyper-vigilance… you get used to it in that weird way where you never really get used to it. Just the sight of my friend brought me some relief. I watched her walk down the street without apology, surrounded by overall clad factory workers and towering historic buildings worn from wind and winter. She wasn’t afraid like I was. To her, Chillicothe is her her ancestral home town and her backwoods battlefield. Her fight: to make a safe place to live with her partner, to raise her children, and to foster her community. The two of us are bonded for a lot of reasons, one being that she and I often commiserate with each other about the over all conservative hellishness of where we live… But Cincinnati is one thing, Chillicothe is another. I listen to her talk about her daughter dealing with a bully (who assaulted her and made continual threats including being calling her a lesbian and a dyke) and how the school’s administration would do nothing to help her. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same cry for help the mother of the boy beaten this past month is voicing, and that of most parents of bullied kids. This is not an isolated problem, and it is not the fault of one child, one school, or one administrator. This is a historical, systematic problem.
I was bullied growing up, but I was lucky. I was lucky that any insult I heard I got over and any fight I was thrown into I ‘won.’ I was lucky that I found a way to survive the hatred of other people as well as the hatred the built up inside myself. Still, here I am as an adult; back in school and I am afraid. I am afraid to walk down the hall by myself, afraid to talk to my classmates about my life, I am afraid to call out others (including professors) when they speak/act in ways that are harmful to me and my people. I am afraid of being physically and emotionally hurt because of something I can not change: Who I am. Imagine what that must be like for a kid; someone with no power, no voice, and no way out. Now days people are coming out younger and younger, but in this world of homophobia and transphobia we think that Glee, Lady Gaga, and Facebook are enough make things right. And while I appreciate the visibility of national media attention and seeing local organizations posting ONE article on facebook, it isn’t enough.
Yes, I live in a conservative mire full of complacency and incompetency. It is frustrating, and a lot of times I want to give up. Even with that, I was lucky to be born in a city – no not lucky, privileged. I complain about being the “only one” in my city, and while in some ways that may be true, overall I am not alone. My friend in Chillicothe can not say the same thing: she really is the only one. Most of us will never fully understand what it is like to experience the level of isolation, fear, and frustration that rural trans* and queer folks deal with every day. For this reason, I admire and respect my friend more than most people I have met. Standing alone, she keeps fighting. It may sound sad, but to me it is a message of hope. For almost a year she has been trying to found a local LGBTQ group but she could not find a single business or church willing to host it out of fear of “being burned down.” This week she told me that finally the Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group is launching (see plug below). This is the example to follow. We must be in our communities fighting, working to building something real It starts at home, and whether you live in a small town or big city, there are things you can do that influence everyone in your state. The more visibility, support, and education we have the less people will hate us, attack us, and misunderstand us. One person being attacked is too many and one person fighting back is not enough. We need to get off our computers and start talking to one another, talking to our representatives, and talking to our children about how to make the real world better. We need community groups, we need legislation (see Ohio House (155 & 208) and the Senate (127)), we need it enforced, and we need it now.
If you would like to do more to help Ohio become safer for our communities’ youth, you can sign this petition for Ohio Safe Schools but remember that an online petition is not enough. We must make phone calls, write letters, and lobby directly in the offices of those who are supposed to be our voice in government.
For Resources and Support:
Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group
1st and 3rd Thursdays of Every Month from 7 to 9pm,
Fellowship Hall of Orchard Hill United Church of Christ, 105 N. Courtland Dr.
*The Chillicothe LGBTQ Peer Group is a secular (nonreligious) peer led support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer identified individuals to discuss their experiences living in the Chillicothe and surrounding areas, to share resources, and to create a greater sense of community and support for all. For more information contact us at LGBTQ45601@gmail.com.