Coming Out

Spirit Day 2014: How We Can Prevent Bullying

by Rev . Pat Bumgardner

Four years ago, beginning in October of 2010, we in the United States saw a rash of gay teenager suicides—Asher Brown, age 13, in Houston; Seth Walsh, also 13, in California; Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg, both 15, from Indiana and Minnesota; and Tyler Clementi, age 18, a freshman just beginning his studies at Rutgers University.

Many of us, including those in the LGBTQI community and our allies, were angered and saddened.

We prayed, we demonstrated, we lobbied for anti-bullying measures to protect kids from the kinds of badgering and physical, emotional and spiritual assault all of these children went through.

One young woman, herself a teenager named Brittany McMillan from Canada, decided to call people around the world to witness against bullying and in support of youth who identify as LGBTQI by wearing purple, originally on October 20th and now on October 16th. She called her project “Spirit Day” because of the color’s significance in the Pride Flag created by Gilbert Baker.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe have since committed to marking Spirit Day by wearing purple or washing their websites and facebook pages in the color. We do so both in remembrance and in solidarity and support—a way to say to say to kids from Uganda to Utah:

You are not alone. Your life is worth living. 

And it is a way to say to bullies of every stripe: Your lives are worth living, too, in a better, more compassionate and accepting way.

That’s the truth that Metropolitan Community Churches was founded on—that we are all the beloved Children of God—and the truth the world needs to hear and celebrate right now.

I am writing from Brazil, near a shelter for LGBTQI young people whose parents and communities and churches abandoned them. Before I left the United States, a New Jersey high school cancelled its entire football season because senior players were bullying and sexually assaulting younger players. And just tonight in my email, I got word that in the city I call home, a young person who once lived at  “Sylvia’s Place,” an emergency shelter for Queer youth housed at MCCNY, was brutally beaten on the streets of Bushwick, in Brooklyn, NY, with the prognosis of uncertain brain damage.

Bullying is not a “gay” issue or even a kid’s issue because it depends on the silent acquiescence of adults and clergy and teachers and community leaders to thrive.

To me, bullying is a human rights issue, because it will not stop until all of us speak up and act out for the value and worth of every human life.

Updates from the Vatican this week signaled to the world that we must “respect the dignity of every person.” Understanding that we are who we are—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, straight—by the grace and design of God, is where that respect begins. The arguments about why we are the sexual orientations we are must stop. It’s time to argue for peace and compassion and goodwill among all the children of God.

In New York, we have a saying: “See something, say something.” This Spirit Day I am calling on my congregation to say and do something each and every time someone is belittled for who they are or battered in any way shape or form—whether that’s on the street or in a classroom or on a Sunday morning at 11am. We must have the courage of our convictions if our children are to have a future free of violence, animosity, and abuse—the kind of future that God wants for everyone.

All of us who believe in the dignity and value of Queer life and all life have, with that simple belief, everything we need to call the world around us to stop the violence whether it’s in the form of state sanctions, as is the case in over 79 countries around the globe, or high school hazings or beatings on the street like happened to my young friend in Bushwick this weekend. Enough is enough, and it’s time we all said so.

Don’t let a day go by—don’t look the other way—don’t write cruelty off as “kids will be kids.”  

See something, say something and do something. The world will be a better place for it.

Photo via flickr user KOREphotos; Go Purple with GLAAD