Like many high school sophomores, Joey is an energetic, charismatic 16-year-old with a wide variety of interests. He enjoys extracurricular activities that, in his words, "are not necessarily 100 percent gay accepting," such as participating in his high school's swim team.
Like many gay high school sophomores, difficulties began the moment Joey came out to his swim team. Teammates refused to swim near him. He was told that being gay is a choice, and they called him impure. They said he was not a human. And then, there were the locker room incidents.
Some particularly misguided young men refused to change in the locker room with Joey, locked him out of the pool, and physically barred him from using the high school's facilities. Joey was a second-class citizen. A "thing," not a person, as Joey describes it.
In their latest salvo to "protect" American society, LGBTQ opposition groups (mostly straight, white males), have begun circling their hate-wagons around "bathroom bills." Social media has become a particularly hostile place for LGBTQ folks, and aggressions ranging from offensive memes to threats of violence are featured daily. For many in the LGBTQ community, the last few months feels like a step back in our struggle for equality.
Bullying -- particularly trans bullying -- is as bad as it has ever been. And sadly, even lawmakers and presidential candidates continue to insult and degrade the LGBTQ community.
As Joey's story shows us, LGBTQ bullying and hate speech doesn't remain on the internet or in the media. It is internalized by our children, and manifests in their attitudes and behaviors. It is the seed in a young person's mind that, absent prevention and education, blossoms into a new generation of hate and bullying.
And high schools can be particularly vicious -- 66 percent of LGBTQ kids are victims of cyberbullying, and 82 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.
Despite the assertions of these LGBTQ bullies, hateful rhetoric is much more harmful to American children than any so-called "restroom safety" issue.
With unwavering support and love from his parents and friends, Joey brought his concerns to the swim coach, who turned his back. Finally, after many conversations between Joey, his family and school administrators, Joey is comfortable enough on the swim team that he plans to rejoin next season.
Fortunately, Joey's story has taken a positive turn. He has become an activist, bravely speaking out against bullying, and pursuing positions in LGBTQ youth leadership and advocacy organizations. Determined not to let the haters win, Joey is becoming an educator -- a preventer of LGBTQ bullying. His goals?
"To help create a better life for LGBTQ youth around the country, stop bullying, create a safe environment for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, and improve the atmosphere inside of schools."
We should all strive to be more like Joey.
Feel free to offer him your support and encouragement in the comments below!