October 24, 2011 in Opinion

It won’t get better alone

Leonard Pitts Jr.
 

Zachary Quinto came out recently.

Ordinarily, the news that Star Trek’s new Mr. Spock had told New York magazine he was gay would barely register. It has become, a rather ordinary thing, celebrities disclosing their hidden sexuality.

But Quinto came out for Jamey.

Jamey’s death, he wrote on his blog, showed him “that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.” Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, hanged himself in September. Just a few days into his freshman year, he apparently felt he could not take the bullying he endured in the hallways of Williamsville North High School in greater Buffalo, N.Y. – or online.

“JAMEY IS STUPID, GAY, FAT AND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” one individual posted, using the all-caps style favored by the shrill and the unhinged.

“I wouldn’t care if you died,” another wrote. “No one would.”

Incredibly, it continued even after his suicide. Jamey’s sister Alyssa went to a dance trying, she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, to not “be in pain for just these two hours.” She says some kids at the dance chanted that they were glad her brother is dead.

Jamey’s “sin” is that he was bisexual and most of his friends were girls.

“I promise you, it will get better,” he had said in a video for the It Gets Better Project, a website (itgetsbetter.org) of 25,000 videos from everyday people and luminaries like Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Hathaway and President Barack Obama to encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered kids who are bullied and ostracized.

There is something inexpressibly poignant in watching this child, who had complained for years of being bullied, try to convince others of something he apparently found hard to believe himself.

The dynamics of bigotry are remarkably consistent whether the bigotry be racial, religious, ethnic or sexual: The target group is invariably defined as a threatening, inferior or offensive “other” to whom no ordinary duties of human decency and respect are owed.

But with sexual orientation, it is easier to hide the offending trait. The abuse becomes something you have to volunteer for. That’s what Quinto just did. And what other gay people must find the courage to do.

Yes, that is easier said than done. To hide in plain sight is to protect yourself from rejection by those whose acceptance means everything. But it is also to flinch from the moral responsibility of standing with and for your own.

It is a good and honorable thing to remind troubled kids that high school ends, that it gets better. Yet that can be cold comfort when you’re 14 and facing four more years of abuse. Four years is nearly a quarter of your life. So what is needed is not simply to encourage kids to be patient until graduation but, rather, to root out that which makes patience necessary.

Meaning the cruel intolerance that calls itself moral righteousness and still finds far too much comfort in our homes, worship houses and schools.

By coming out in honor of Jamey, standing with and for this tortured boy, Zachary Quinto acknowledges the obvious.

It does not get better on its own.

Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email address is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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