Making it better now

It started in Grade 4.

The girl I had a crush on stood at the front of the classroom and announced, “My mom says Danny is a future homo.”

I no longer know that girl, but I can still hear her saying those words today, more than 20 years later.

The room erupted in laughter; the teacher blushed for me. I was mortified. What was a homo and why was her mother saying this about me?

It got worse from there. Along with the future-homo moniker, I was also called Perfume Boy because my progressive and very cool mother had bought me cologne.

I stopped wearing pink and purple clothes because apparently that wasn’t okay either. I cried; I loved my shimmery purple shorts.

A bigoted parent had recognized my feminine side before I realized there might be something wrong with a boy who enjoyed gardening, Barbie dolls and Judy Bloom’s Fudge books.

That parent put in motion a spate of bullying that would follow me through nine more years of school. Through every one of those years, teachers were aware of it. I do not remember one of them ever doing anything.

My single mother was also aware. I remember her begging school staff to intervene when she daily saw the misery on her broken son’s face. I had always enjoyed school so much. What had happened? she demanded.

She worked two jobs, so home schooling was not an option. She was poor, so moving to another neighbourhood or paying for a special school was out of the question. She expected the public school system to do something, to stand up for her son, who wanted only to learn.

It didn’t.

In the end I survived, mostly thanks to strong support at home. I found allies, tried to ignore the homophobic insults and even became popular eventually.

I did not kill myself.

When Jamie Hubley committed suicide on Oct 14, I was instantly brought back to those years.

Pundits and politicians expressed shock when Jamie’s father said the bullying had begun in Grade 7 because Jamie (like me) had been into figure skating and not hockey.

Most gays would not have been shocked. Like me, many faced bullying or worse long before Grade 7, and many contemplated suicide as a way to make it stop.

I thought of Jamie’s last words written on his blog: “I don’t want to wait three more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know it will get better? It’s not.”

I believe the It Gets Better campaign was created with the greatest amount of heart and the best intentions. It has been wildly successful, with important folks, from Barack Obama to Lady Gaga, championing its message. But it is not enough.


Would we tell a woman in an abusive relationship to wait nine years for it to get better?

Would we tell our elderly parents to sit tight and wait it out for a decade if they were being abused in a seniors’ home?

Would we advise a friend to stay in a job if a boss or colleague was daily hurling insults at them?

I think not.

So why are we treating our children with such disdain? How can we continue to dismiss pleas for help in the face of homophobic bullying? In the face of any bullying?

The It Gets Better campaign was an important first step; it’s now time for us to keep walking.

I am advocating for a different campaign, a campaign that demands of our leaders, our educators and all of us (including homophobic parents out there) to make it better.

We can start with inclusive sex education — and yes, from as early as Grade 4 or sooner — in all schools.

We can start by lobbying our governments to force all schools to allow gay-straight alliances and stop leaving this fight to brave teenagers.

We can start by asking our government leaders to do more than make an It Gets Better video, for they hold the real power to make it better.

Not in three years, not in nine years, but now. Right now.

It is a matter of life and death.

Danny Glenwright was formerly Xtra’s managing editor. He has a background in human rights journalism and media training and a masters in international cooperation and development from Italy’s University of Pavia. Before coming to Xtra, Danny was the editor of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary news service in South Africa and a regular contributor to South Africa’s Mail and Guardian news. He has also worked in Sierra Leone, Palestine, Namibia, the United Kingdom and Rwanda.

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