Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bullying: Not letting it go

A couple of weeks ago, students from the University of Virginia organized a candlelight vigil on the steps of Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda to remember the young people who have taken their own lives because they were bullied for being gay or perceived as being gay.

For me, and those who were there, it was a very powerful evening, filled with not just tears and speeches, but also with a steel resolve to end the bullying and call it out when we find it.

I don't want to let that evening pass as just another checkmark on a long to-do list this Fall.

So I want to bring two items to your attention today. First, sent by a friend, this blog item written by a mom whose five-year-old boy dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo. Yeah, he dressed like a girl. So what? Do we wonder where the bullies learn to be bullies? The bullies were other moms. Please read this by clicking HERE.

And then today I want to post the speech given at the UVA vigil by Sean Bugg, who is a fourth-year UVA student and a pillar of our Canterbury Episcopal student community. Sean was physically attacked on the street a few weeks ago outside of our Canterbury house by someone who jumped out of an SUV and shoved him to the ground, likely because of Sean's appearance. Here is Sean's speech, and I am very proud of Sean for his courage in speaking at the vigil:
By Sean Bugg
Over the past week I have watched online videos from the “It Gets Better Project” in an attempt to find some sort of answer to the tragedies we’ve heard about in the news. I’ve heard uplifting words from celebrities, such as Tim Gunn, as well as heart wrenching ones from Ellen Degeneres. A complete stranger even e-mailed me his video when he heard of the attack I suffered in the middle of September. But my words aren’t meant to be about me or what I’ve been through.
Suffice it to say, however, that in light of my own victimization and learning of the deaths of these young LGBT teens, I have lost my faith in humanity and am struggling to regain it. I don’t care who you are or what you believe, nor does it matter what your or my own personal convictions are. There is nothing in this world, there is nothing in this life, more precious and sacred than a human life. I won’t lie to you, because I can’t lie to you. I am angry, furious, and livid that our society would allow such terrible things to happen. I simply cannot fathom the crimes that have been committed against such wonderful, promising, gifted, and innocent persons.
As a poet and as someone who studies poetry, there is nothing more beautiful in the world to me than the testimony, than the sound of an other’s voice telling their story; and because of intolerance, because of someone else’s ignorance, we will never hear the voices of these elegant and graceful souls. Their voices have been silenced unjustly. This silencing sickens me to my very core. We are here tonight to give these youths the justice they deserve.
What happened is not removed from us by any degree, however minute. We, as members of this society, of this country, bear full responsibility for their unfortunate deaths. We must work to rectify this, because they truly are crimes against humanity, for which we must atone and ensure never happen again.
I see tonight as a gathering of people who wish to give voices to those who have had theirs prematurely taken away from them. Tonight is about – to borrow the words of a personal idol, American poet Walt Whitman – we came here this evening to “…sound [our] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
The following are the voices of those named below, whose lives were senselessly ended merely because they dared to be true to their selves, because they were bold enough to embrace their identities.
This is the voice of Tyler Clementi: [silence]
This is the voice of Asher Brown: [silence]
This is the voice of Seth Walsh: [silence]
This is the voice of Billy Lucas: [silence]
This is the voice of Zach Harrington: [silence]
This is the voice of Aiyisha Hassan: [silence]
And these are the voices of those for whom we have no names, but whose voices have nevertheless been stilled: [silence].
They will never know the joy of having their name called out at a commencement ceremony, nor know love’s first kiss, nor the pleasure of another autumn. They will never know any of the daily joys of which you and I take pleasure, which we take for granted.
You may be wondering why I turned to Whitman’s words and why I will shortly turn to another poet’s words. Well, I do so because someone once told me: “When language fails you, turn to poetry;”and language has failed me, insofar as its ability to express the deep distress I feel for these youths and their families. So I quote from another American poet, Allen Ginsberg:

“America when will we end the human war?.../…America when will you be angelic?.../…America the plum blossoms are falling.”

Ask yourselves those very questions as I leave you with one final image and a poem. America, when will we end the human war? Before I leave you with this poem by Adam Zagajewski, I would like you to envision a monument, erected at Dachau, Germany. Inscribed on stone in five languages are the words “Never Again.” Let those two words be our promise to these young people and let us resolve to ourselves: Nie Mehr!

Try To Praise The Mutilated World
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere, you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars. Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski (Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)

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