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SAFE, NOT SORRY
27 March 2007
What were you doing when you were in high school? If you were like me, you were working on the yearbook, partying with friends, participating in the school play. For me, the high school years were some of the happiest in my life.
If you were someone like Steve, you might grow up to write lyrics like
If you were someone like Gilbert, you might be a successful man in your 50s, for whom high school was such a nightmare that you shut out all memories and refused to discuss them, even 30+ years after they ended.
If you were someone like the kids I saw today, hundreds and hundreds of them, some of whom had gotten up at 1 a.m. and driven 8 hours to meet at the state capitol to bring their message to legislators for whom they might be too young to vote, you are brave warriors determined to live life proudly, as God made you.
The event was the annual Queer Youth Advocacy Day. Ellen called me last night to say that some of the volunteers were not going to be able to work and could I possibly donate some time. I said that of course I would and I made my way to the Crest Theatre in Sacramento, where people were meeting to register and where the kids were going to have some training on the proper way to speak with legislators, before marching over to the capitol to actually do it.
As it turned out, my direct participation was pretty nil. They wanted adults there to support the kids and to be a barrier between them and the anti-gay folks who were out in force.
When I realized that they didn't need me, I spent most of my time recording the event (check additional photos on Flickr and the video of the day) and even interviewed a couple of people.
This is the minister of the Davis Unitarian Church and two of her parishioners. It is the man's birthday and when his wife asked what he wanted to do for his birthday, he told her, "I want to go to Sacramento and support those kids."
I carried a sign and a balloon when we walked to the capitol. We adults were acting as a kind of a rainbow phalanx between the kids and the protestors....
...though these kids certainly didn't need any "protection" from us. They were out and proud and ready to demand their constitutional rights to an education free from fear.
We gathered on the lawn in front of the capitol and heard speeches from folks like Senator Carol Migden, an openly gay state senator who has introduced legislation to protect gay kids in school.
* Like Christopher Cabaldon, the openly gay mayor of West Sacramento, who looked out over the sea of young faces and remarked that he was only one of three gay kids who had enough courage to come to the capitol ten years ago.
* Like Assemblyman John Laird, a member of the gay caucus who told the crowd that when he was elected mayor of Santa Cruz in the 1980s, he was one of only three gay men in the entire country to serve as mayor (at least openly).
The crowd chanted the answer to the question "Why are we here" by shouting "We are the future" and "for Equality and Safety."
The touching stories came from the kids. A young gay Latino man said that it should be the right of every child to feel safe and respected. Period. He talked about how difficult it had been for him to go to his principal when he was threatened by classmates, only to have the principal tell him it was his fault for "causing his own persecution." The principal then outed the young man to his family, many of whom then rejected him.
Mimi, who described herself as a "straight ally" stated emphatically that "protection of education is something that all students deserve," and that instead, for many gay kids, this is a time of fear and, for too many, a time when there are suicide attempts, some of which are successful.
Jo, from San Francisco, the daughter of two lesbians talked about the harassment she receives because of her family situation.
A young man talked about living in fear in the classroom. I learned that it is not uncommon for gay kids to hear gay slurs 50 times a day or more.
As the speeches began to wind down, groups of students, with capitol police support, approached the capitol to file into the building for their scheduled appointments with legislators, in the hopes of educating them to the reality of living as a gay kid in schools in this state, and to ask for support for legislation to help all kids get an education without fear of attack.
As Ellen and Shelly and I left the Capitol grounds, I saw this young mother with her child...
...and I thought how wonderful it would be if, by the time he was in high school, "safe schools" would be such a given that there would be no need for Queer Youth Awareness any more.
Then I saw these kids...
...in the middle of the hate-mongers...
...and I wondered if my thought was only a pipe dream and if we are still going to be having these battles into the next decade.
I hope not. Wouldn't it be wonderful if gay kids could just go to class, party with their friends, go to school dances, work on the yearbook and participate in the school play without fear for their lives?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
(Ellen & Shelly like kissing in front of the protestors.
This is entry #2553