When You Overhear Homophobia Or Bullying, Here's How To Respond
Today is ~spirt day~, and I feel like total shit because I forgot to wear purple (like many celebrities are doing), probably because I'm still reeling over listening to Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric during the final presidential debate.
But really, in such a dark political time — a time where bullying has become so normalized in our society that an electoral candidate for the United States of America happens to be one of the world's most notorious bullies — we need spirit day more than ever.
I might not have worn purple today, but my queer heart is bursting with queer love and queer spirt.
If you're not familiar with spirit day, please allow me to explain what it's all about:
Spirit day is a glorious day where millions of people come together and wear the lush-color purple to outwardly express their stance against bullying, and to show their vehement allegiance to our vulnerable LGBTQ youth — a subset of young people that are targets of incessant bullying and harassment.
My queer heart is bursting with queer love and queer spirt.
Too many queer young people feel unsafe at school. Too many young people have the bliss of youth taken away by bullies.
But far more heartbreaking were the countless times I fell silent in the ugly face of homophobia. My school was extremely homophobic, and any kid who was different was tormented with hateful slurs like "faggot" and "dyke."
I stayed quiet because I didn't want to be found out, and I stayed quiet because it was easier to stay quiet, baby.
I stayed quiet because I was a girl who got invited to house parties, and I was a girl who smoked stolen cigarettes with skater boys. I stayed quiet because I was a teen girl, and all girls are expected to be quiet, right?
As I entered my junior year of high school, something powerful shifted inside of me. Years of staying silent suddenly surfaced. I began to actively speak out against homophobia all the time.
I even put myself in a pretty dangerous situation with some pretty dangerous, homophobic boys (one of which is now in jail for life, but we can save that story for another article).
The point is, around the age of 16, I began to realize what my favorite singer, Ani Difranco, proclaims in one of her famous, spoken-word anthems: "Silence is violence."
Silence is violence.
To sit pretty and watch another human be endlessly harassed, to ignore that homophobic slur you clearly heard and to not take action when you see an innocent person getting beat up for being who they are are all travesties. They're as bad as being the perpetrator. We know better.
I wish with every fiber of my being that more adults had taken a stronger stance against bullying when I was in school. If young people felt more protected, maybe LGBTQ youth wouldn't be at such a high risk for addiction. Maybe the teen suicide rate would be lower.
Just knowing one adult has your back can be the difference between life and death for a young person.
However, it's so important that we lead by example. You know the saying, "Think locally; act globally"? I say, "Think high school, but act workplace."
How can we expect young people to take our stance against bullying seriously when we silently let it happen in our own lives all the time?
I mean, how many times have we all sat at a bar silently as we heard some adult men throw around the saying "that's gay" or call each other a "faggot" all in good fun?
By not calling these guys out and expressing that we take personal offense to their words, we're encouraging them to continue to spew out hateful words that are wildly upsetting and triggering for a lot of people.
It would be far more powerful to just tap the guy on the shoulder and say, "Hey, I don't like when you say 'gay' in a negative context. It offends me."
I've done this many times, and more often then not, the ignorant dude feels really bad. Using the word "gay" in a casual context has become so normalized in our culture, they might have even forgotten it's hurtful. Sometimes, a bro just needs a reminder!
If he's a dick to you about it, at least you spoke up, girl. At least you showed the queer person two seats over that you're on their team. And that's everything to the queer person two seats over.
So what about the times you find yourself somewhere scary? What if you see a big, scary guy threatening someone in a parking lot at 2 am?
Hey, I used to live in Florida. I've seen some things I will never be able to un-see, no matter how much I wish I could erase these traumatizing visions from my brain.
But hey, it doesn't help anyone for you to get beat to a pulp, so in these cases, you MUST call the police and report what you saw.
You cannot silently walk away and let another person get hurt. If you think — or even have a tiny instinct — someone might get hurt for their sexuality, you must call 911 and report it immediately. That's why they're there, kittens.
If you think someone might get hurt for their sexuality, you must call 911.
You don't want to pick a fight with a drunken, red-faced predator at a bar. Trust me, I've done this before, and I've put the people I was with in dangerous situations, where they could've been hurt in the process.
If you're outspoken and burning with a relentless fire inside of you, like me, this is hard. I, too, forget I'm barely 120 pounds, and I'll bite back to anyone who makes a bullying slur.
But directly confronting a dangerous person is NOT SMART. What's smart is to go to the bouncer, the bartender or the restaurant manager and tell them you're uncomfortable because there's a raging homophobe in the bar.
It's also always important to say you're offended, not "my gay friend is offended." By saying you're personally offended by homophobia if you aren't queer, you're expressing your empathy, demonstrating that you aren't ashamed to align yourself with a queer person.
It makes a huge difference, and really, it should offend you. Homophobia is a social disease that attacks humanity. Peel back the layers of sexuality, and we're all human beings.
Peel back the layers of sexuality, and we're all human beings.
If someone is being homophobic at work, go directly to HR. These days, bigotry and homophobia are not accepted in the workplace, and no company wants a homophobic reputation, especially with social media jumping on the train for tolerance.
You don't need to violently have it out with someone by the water cooler, though. Maintain your composure, and speak to Suzie Q in HR. If someone at work is making fun of a queer person, definitely go to HR, but also make sure you reach out to the victim of the bullying.
Let them know you saw what happened, you don't stand for it and it's not OK. Just hearing that someone else overheard the wildly offensive remarks directed your way or noticed you were being targeted is so incredibly validating.
If you're the only queer person at work, you can feel like you're going crazy, sometimes. You don't have anyone to pull to the side and say, "Holy shit did you just hear that?"
It's up to queer allies to be hypersensitive to homophobia in the workplace and validate the experience of the person being targeted.
And if you hear homophobic remarks in a place where you can't say anything and reporting it isn't option (like on the subway, at the mall or just a person traipsing down the street), take to social media.
Social media, for better or for worse, has given everyone a platform to express themselves.
Use this platform to take a stand. Write about how you heard something homophobic and how it upset you, and you'll validate so many LGBTQ people who follow you. You will show that you notice and that you care.
The worst part of bullying is when people are blind to it. There are kids whose entire high school experiences were ruined because of relentless bullying, and no one noticed. The bullies never even saw themselves as bullies.
We need to be tapped into bullying. Once we're tapped in, we're more empathetic to the experiences of others.
Empathy is powerful, and feeling the pain of others makes us think twice before we speak. Most of all, it drives us to take a stand against the incessant bullying in the world.