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.