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Safety In Numbers

The It Gets Better tour’s last stop was Seattle WA, the most progressive city on the tour by far.  Before our end of the week show at the historic Moore theatre, the cast performed for and spoke to groups of community leaders, an assembly of very articulate middle schoolers, and even a local morning news show.  We also visited one very interesting high school.

High School was difficult for me.  Like much of the LGBT community, I endured verbal and physical abuse in the hallways, classrooms and gyms of my school. Mine was a Christian high school no less, so I also feared expulsion if anyone found out that I was gay.  Of course it could have been much much worse, but none the less, High School was difficult.

Cut to 2013. I am a successful, self-accepting man, with my days of high school distress far behind me.  Yet the moment I walked through the doors of that Seattle high school my anxiety level skyrocketed.  It’s amazing how simple things like the sight of school desk chair, the smell of a cafeteria, or the sound of a school bell can trigger all sorts of memories.  My inner teenage choir nerd was screaming for me to get the hell out of there.  Fortunately, I had put my big boy pants on that morning, so I went out and did a great show for our captive (attendance required) audience.

After singing our songs and telling our stories, we dialogued with the students about bullying in their school.  Was there any physical or verbal bullying taking place?  If so, was anyone standing up for the abused?  Were the teachers involved in bullying prevention? Generally speaking, was this high school a safe place to go to school?  To our happy surprise, the students said there were very few incidents of verbal abuse, and certainly no physical bullying taking place.  The answer to our question was yes. This was in fact a safe place to go to school.

As the assembly was about to end, one of the cast members asked, “How many openly gay or lesbian students do you have at this school?”  After a couple of moments conferring with their compatriots, the students gave their consensus: None. There were no out gay people at their school.  This group of teenagers who just spent the last 15 minutes telling us they had a safe, bully-free, tolerant school, said there was not one single out gay person on campus.  I (who had been silent during this whole discussion) quickly took the microphone and with no semblance of subtlety said “If there are no openly gay people in this school of thousands, then this is NOT a safe place to go to school!”  The bell rang.  Everybody left.

As we left the assembly, my heart broke not just for the Seattle kids, but more for the students looking over their shoulders as they wander the halls of my dear alma mater.  I really hope the gay kids at my high school are ok.  I really hope that someday the It Gets Better Tour can go to my high school and tell those kids that sometimes the only way out is through, but that it WILL get better.  I’m just not so sure the school would let us in the building. 

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I Must Have Done Something Right

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles’ It Gets Better cast just spent a week in Lawrence Kansas. In comparison to the other cities on the tour, this city needs things to get better the most. Not only is it in the middle of a very rural, very red area, it is also 20 miles away from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church (aka the “God hates fags” church). Now I have seen pictures of these faithful congregants picketing military funerals, concerts, and AIDS walks with signs reading, “Thank God for IEDs”, “God hates you ” and “Fags die, God laughs”. And along with the rest of the civilized world, I am of course disgusted. Weeks ago, when the cast first realized how close that church would be to our theatre, we haphazardly said things like, “I hope they show up”, “Bring it bitches” or even “I will make care packages for them”. Cut to Feb 15th when we get the following notice:

“WBC will picket the Gay Men’s Choir ‘It Gets Better’ performance at KU to remind these perverts that the God that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah yet reigns. These proud unrepentant sodomites that think they can change one iota of God’s word with blasphemous platitudes have a great sorrow in store for them. Actually it gets much worse...These tyrannical fags rule every aspect of doomed american life as a curse from God on this wicked nation”.

Now it was real. What I once thought would just be good publicity had now become a major anxiety. Understand that during the show, each actor breaks character, addresses the audience and shares his own personal bullying/coming out story. And my story is all about religion. And they knew it. I was told that there was a possibility that number of the 25 picketers could buy tickets to the show and then shout their bile during my monologue. I was of course worried about the prospect of this occurring, but so were the rest of my cast and other members of the GMCLA back in LA. One wonderful GMCLA member even sent an encouraging email that ended with, “Please Please Please take EXTRA good care of Drew”.

At the end of the day, the show went off without a hitch. The devoted deprecators marched with their signs and then they went home. I was even able address their presence during my monologue, which was followed by much applause from the audience. But the whole thing got me thinking: What was it inside me that made me nervous about of a bunch of crazies speaking words loudly? After traveling all over the country sharing with people that I am proud of and ok with who I am, how is it that these haters nearly had me in tears? Even more importantly, am I giving these jackasses more power just by writing about them? At the moment, I’m not really sure about any of that. But I am sure of this as anything: If I am being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church, I must be doing something right.

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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

The It Gets Better Project has packed it’s bags and hit the road.  As a proud cast member of The It Gets Better musical, I have taken to the streets of this country in hopes of bringing about positive changes for our nation’s LGBT youth.  In addition to performing our show in each city, we visit college classrooms, High School GSA’s and other community groups to discuss ways to make things better for their LGBT youth.  I must say that although I am the one who is supposed to be teaching the students, giving information, and facilitating change, I am pretty sure that I am the one getting schooled. I can definitely say that I am smarter than I was when I left home.

The tour’s first stop was Pennsylvania State University.  While we were there, we were invited to visit an undergraduate sociology lecture about sexual diversity.  As soon as the class started, one of the very first things the professor shouted to his class of over 800 people was, “SO WHO LIKES FELLATIO?!”  Had I been drinking water at that moment it would have been a spit take for sure. This was definitely NOT the sociology class I took at my little Christian college in Azusa. 

Throughout the lecture, the It Gets Better cast sang songs from our show, shared our personal stories of being bullied/coming out of the closet as well what our lives are like now.  We interacted with the students, participated in exercises and answered any questions the students asked, regardless of how personal.  Now the professor asked a number “instant data collection” questions to his class.  The students answered these questions by using clickers (Apparently the pencil and paper have gone the way of the dinosaur) and their responses showed up anonymously on the screen in front. 

After a thoroughly educational and entertaining lecture, the class concluded with one final and rather disturbing question.  The inquiry: “If you knew for 100% sure that your child would grow up to be gay, would you electively terminate that pregnancy?”  I was shocked by the question.  I was even more shocked by the answer.  17% of the class answered with a resounding “yes”. 

After spending 2 hours listening to our stories, asking us questions and getting to know us as individuals, 136 of those students still said they would rather have an abortion than raise a gay child.  Talk about a gut punch.  Now part of me REALLY wanted to ask if those “yes” people only answered that way because they were afraid of their child being bullied or having social difficulties.  I decided not to ask.  I think I was a little too afraid of what the answer would be.

 We’ve got a couple more stops left on this tour.  We’re going to Lawrence Kansas and then Seattle Washington. I can only imagine what I will learn in these cities.  But in the mean time, like I mentioned, I can definitely say that I am smarter than I was before I left home.  By about 17%.

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