This morning I woke up and put on a purple v-neck t-shirt, in remembrance of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Zach Harrington and GLBT teens everywhere who took their lives out of fear. This shirt, previously, has been a favorite shirt, bought really because my 2-year-old niece Lucy loves purple, and it turns out to look good on me. It will always mean something different to me afterward. I have no idea if it will help, but if it stops even one more kid from taking his or her life during this season of homophobia and intolerance, I’ll have done my job.
If you are a GLBT teen and a reader of this blog, and you’re having trouble due to bullying, or you feel despair at the thought that you can’t come out where you are now, please try to reach out to someone, somewhere. The internet provides you with the ability to get help I couldn’t have imagined when I was that age. GLBT teens are at three times the risk for suicide as their heterosexual peers, due to bullying, parental disapproval and the physical, emotional and even sexual abuse that can occur when you are isolated and unable to assert yourself and your rights. I would also add that in my lifetime, in just 20 years, I’ve seen a new level of acceptance from the world for the lives of GLBT people that I couldn’t have imagined. When the people in Dan Savage’s campaign say, It gets better, it’s true—it does. And not only for us as individuals, but collectively, as a community. Today there are gay-straight alliances, magazines, political organizations, internet-based communities and social networks, social groups, tv channels, films, in a variety I would have thought was impossible when I was sixteen and terrified to come out.
And if you are a Korean or Korean American GLBT teen, well, again, the level of acceptance for GLBT Koreans and Korean Americans is unprecedented and has expanded well past what I thought was possible as a teenager. You may think your family will say you’re dead to them, you may fear being left to your own and cut out of family life, but just know that the world is more than what we imagine it to be, and in that is the possibility for unimaginable love and acceptance. I’m not saying homophobia isn’t real, or the routine denial of even its existence by many Koreans. I’m saying that the world and your family can surprise you.
And if you are in the closet, and considering coming out, I’ll add only that you should wait until you feel safe. Whether it is cues in your family that acceptance might be possible, or that you’re finally on your own, and could make a living if your family throws you out, do not come out recklessly. When I came out to my mother, I did it after college, and I did it because I loved her and I didn’t want us to have a dishonest relationship, where she didn’t know about my life. She’s now very close to my boyfriend, and they love talking to each other. I would never have imagined that back when I was sixteen, but that’s more about the limits of my imagination then, and not about the world. It turned out to be just one of the moments I learned that the world was bigger and more interesting than my idea of it, and I’ve spent my life as a writer thinking about that.
Consider joining in today, and wearing purple, not just for the kids who’ve taken their lives, but for the ones who are still alive, vulnerable, and who need a show of support. It is a small thing in the face of something enormous, but sometimes all you need is that one small gesture at the right time.