I was asked to write a little something for http://www.iwillbeokay.com/, so here it is (unedited):

I am sharing my story let anyone out there know –you are not alone. There have been a horrific amount of teenage suicides due to bullying. It just breaks my heart to know what those family members are feeling. No one should ever get to a point where they feel entirely helpless. I want to say to anyone out there feeling that way, take it as a learning experience to educate others.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in the nineties, where having the most bling car, having a varsity jacket, and whom you were dating, were all was key. Granted, at the time, I don’t think I knew I was gay. Like everybody, I was trying to find myself, though I didn’t realize at the time it was take me until two years ago (in my late twenties) to be really proud of who I am. It’s great to say, “Be different, Fuck them if they don’t approve,” but try saying that to someone who’s in a town in the middle of nowhere. So for those kids, this is for you.

Never in my dreams, did I think I would be sharing my story in hopes of helping even one (young) person. In high school, though we had an amazing music teacher who was gay, there was still a huge sense of disapproval for being gay to talking about it. If you were gay, you certainly couldn’t be open about it without facing ridicule. If I had a chance to go back and relive my high school years, I never would. In the gym locker room, a sigh of relief would come over me when I realized I wasn’t the one being made fun of for being girly, or being told I speak weird. . I was happy I knew the “popular” crowd. I would see students helpless against the typical jocks, who would verbally abuse and one time threw another student (with their clothes on) into the shower. Helpless and relived is what I felt. Relieved it wasn’t me.

These images still come vividly to me. I know a few friends of mine who went through this experience and have told me. “Why stand up for gay rights? No one was there to help me!” As an educator, someone part of the media, and a human, this is a matter of civil rights.

My last year of high school, I did the ever-popular “I-am’bi” which transitioned to “I’m gay” by the time college hit. I had an amazing boyfriend (he went nice and slow knowing it was my first gay relationship), and two more long-lasting relationships after that.

I have been fortunate to not had many circumstances where I have had to tolerant discrimination. Among them at Hershey Park on Father’s Day when a father with his son(??!!) told my ex-boyfriend he has a man purse and verbal abused us for 20 minutes. While there was tension, no one stood up to him. I was in a state of shock. Everything was in slow motion. I regret feeling so helpless and not doing anything. This is one of the moment I wish I could go back and change. One of my ex-students (ten years old) found my old Facebook and told me being gay made me “low” and a few other negative choice comments. Each of these memories will always stick with me. Because these is why we need to stop the hate. Period.

Being a teacher, it’s our job to really mold these children. The bullying I have seen starts at a very young age and continues. Schools NEED to really have no-bullying tolerance. Believe it or not, these children will remember that horrible experience and carry it with them, right along with the positive ones. I truly believe people are afraid of what they don’t know. It’s our job to dispel the stereotypes and educated families and communities about being gay. It’s taken years for African Americans to have justice and I expect it will be a long but worthy road for us.

After really exploring who I was in college, I left as a teacher. As an elementary school teacher (and a gay one at that!) forget being out. Mix that in with my deeply religious family and I virtually stayed in the closet for three more years. My boyfriends were known as my “friends” to my family and my mother at one point told me being gay “was a phase”. To her credit, she meant well –waiting twenty years before adopting me and she’s the most loving lady –but it’s something her generation never talked about: sexuality. Ito her and many in her generation, it’s hard to look at it as a lifestyle. It’s more than whom you share a bed with. I was one of the first gay people a friend’s family knew in college. To them, this is not how a gay person acted/looked. It opened their eyes to look past the generic stereotypes.

I was financially secure, and in the closet at school (no talk of my weekends, my personal life). Some of my friends didn’t now what they wanted to do with their lives, but no, I knew it all. That changed. Two years ago, I was let go from my teaching job. I believe through fate, I wound up trying a new gig: hosting and taking photography at high-profile media events. Through this, I saw my wings open up to who I really was. It really allowed me to not be afraid to talk about who I was or what I wanted to do. I also realized what an impact the media has. I try to cover many LGBTQ events as I can. It’s so important for young people to see what is going on in our community and want to be part in activism. I had a chance to interview Cynthia Nixon, and Joy Behar (among) others, at the GLAAD Media Awards. To have these important people give up their time and share their stories means a lot. We should all be sharing our stories.

Ultimately down the line, I would to set up an anti-bullying workshop that would go to school (ALL ages levels) and educate teachers and students about being gay. As a teacher, I didn’t feel comfortable coming out, so for any teachers as well, this could be a turning point. I would want to program to work with guidance counselors and social workers to keep of lines of communication open. This is a problem that doesn’t go away from one assembly. I also want to set up a website which archives our history: Stonewall, LGBTQ marches, hate crimes, memorials to those affected by hate crimes and education. It would have literature and also videos. It should be a place where anyone in the world can come to view material and learn. The more positive media exposure, the more people understand our struggle, the more allies we shall have.

To my young friends out there: I feel your pain every day. To those shedding a tear, afraid to raise their hand at school, talk about the cute girl/guy they met, there are others like us out there –closer than you think. My heart goes out to anyone that had or will be subjected to any sort of hate crime. Stay strong and use your experience to build a better tomorrow. Know there are people out there who love you very much. Also, you are growing up in a great time of technology. More stories about gay people influencing the media positively are coming out each day. Look to those people and know people like me are trying to use their voice so you don’t have to endure intolerance. Just know our community is so strong and these new wave of suicides because of gay bullying has been a wake up call. We need to not preach to the LGBTQ community. We should be out there with people don’t understand us, changing their mind. Look around at school, at work, in your town, someone there is gay. If you don’t know there, they are there. Our generation and the ones after will be the ones to make a differences. It has been pointed out in general, that generation now are more accepting than older generations, because we grew up in a time where it is ok to express who you are.

My favorite quote is one that touches me everything I hear it. It is by someone I look up to greatly, Academy-award winner Dustin Lance Black during his Oscar acceptance speech for the film, “Milk”:

When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life, it gave me the hope to one day live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married..But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours.”

Measure in love

Neal B