I attended what turned out to be a very progressive high school, although I didn't realize it at the time. The student body was not only heavily minority, it also had students from 74 different countries in attendance. There was more emphasis on the arts, particularly band and theater, than on sports. My high school had an actual theater with an orchestra pit that could be lowered or raised. Parts of the theater could be closed off so that students could view movies that were part of the English curriculum. Math and Science awards happened so often that they were no longer big news. And students showed up for school with blue hair, mohawks, and the occasional safety pin stuck into their skin, because this was back when punk rock was cool and the new wave was just getting started.
Oh, and several of the students were gay.
I don't know how I knew that, because it was never a topic of conversation. Teenagers at that time never sat around talking about their heterosexuality, either. We discussed sex, but mostly what we saw in movies, not from actual experience. I certainly wasn't in that much of a hurry and neither were the kids that I hung out with. So sexual orientation never came up in conversation.
But we knew. We knew and we didn't care, at least not the people I tended to spend time around. We still hung out, we still cut up in class, we still did all the things that teenagers do when left unsupervised in large groups, which was often, in those days. I have thought about this often, and not once can I remember anyone being bullied for their sexual orientation. People were being bullied for being dumb, fat, short, annoying, smelly, and any combination of the above. Sexual orientation never came up. The wedgie comes to all, they say, and wedgies don't discriminate.
So what changed? When did it become so horrible to know that someone is gay? I know that when the AIDS epidemic hit, the fear of disease seemed to get the ball rolling, but this seems to come from another place. When did it become okay to hate people based on something that is really not anybody's business? When did that ignorant church in Kansas become the face of all this hatred?
Guess what? Everyone is still a person.
Whether you are gay or hetero, you are still YOU.
You're still the same person who tells me the most ridiculous knock-knock jokes I've ever heard.
You're still the same person who never remembers to put in both earrings before showing up to work.
I will still be proud to call you a friend. It is not my place to judge you for things that you can't change about yourself. We judge ourselves enough! Maybe other people need to learn that lesson as well.
Here is the solution: just treat everyone with respect, as much as you possibly can, period. Ultimately, that is all that matters, and all you can control is your own behavior. That is what I do, because all journeys begin with the first step. I don't always succeed in being respectful to everyone, but that's because of me, not the person that I am interacting with. I am a work in progress, as are we all.
Treat everyone with respect. Not easy to do, but nothing good ever comes easy. I know that people will say that I am over simplifying, and that I am missing the big issues here. But if we don't start with the most important thing, respect, none of the rest will matter.
*steps off soap box*