On Feb. 10, Indiana media reported that LGBT students in Sullivan, Ind., a small town near the Illinois/Indiana border, asked the school administration if they could attend their high school prom. The school clearly supported the students in attending. Yet the focus of the media story was on the fact that some teachers, parents and students did not want LGBT couples to attend the prom. They held a meeting at a local church to discuss holding a "traditional prom" outside the school that would ban the LGBT students. Local media covering the meeting broadcast an on-camera interview with Diana Medley, a special-ed teacher at North Central Jr./Sr. High School. When asked if she believed that gay people have a purpose in life, she said, "No, I honestly don't."
This statement sent an emotional shockwave across the country. LGBT organizations and allies around the state sent emails and discussed what action to take. Among these were the three of us: Rev. Marie Siroky, President of ICON (Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination); Annette Gross, State Coordinator of Indiana PFLAG; and Jean Capler, President of FairTalk, an organization working for full relationship equality in Indiana.
Marie considered writing a press release:
I was thinking about how the kids felt hearing that from a teacher, and my actions were aimed at the statement that was made. Then my friend Michelle, a parent and teacher, asked what ICON was doing and said that she wanted to be a part of it. Something switched inside me. I realized that I had lost my focus and had wanted action toward something, when, as a minister, I needed to have action with someone, in this case the LGBT youth. I used a play on words and tweeted "GLBT You Have A Purpose." I thought that a video would make a stronger statement.
So we began to brainstorm: How do we best reach the kids?
Jean knew it was best to strike while the iron is hot: "My work as a psychotherapist with LGBT youth and adults allows me to see firsthand the pain caused by hurtful words. I was determined to do something to support the young people affected." As president of FairTalk, her focus is on fostering respectful and honest conversations between people to promote equality for all. It was crucial that the youth affected by these words be supported with a positive message. This emphasis on positive messages would be a fundamental part of the emerging project.
Annette is the only one among us who has a gay child, and her fierceness and protectiveness makes her the queen of PR. Annette explained:
People were asking me what I, as Indiana PFLAG State Coordinator, was going to do. My focus was not on the teacher or what happens to her but on the LGBT kids. When a parent hears someone say that their child and others like him don't have any value, that triggers some very intense feelings. The message is that your child doesn't count in this world, that he or she shouldn't even be here. These are very hurtful and damaging words. So I was very happy to work with Marie and Jean to get the message out that we care about these kids and that they do indeed have a purpose!
By the following Friday, the Facebook page "You Have a Purpose Project" went up with two videos. Then the "likes" started, and messages and videos followed. Watching them is emotional. You can see the pain that these kids experienced when they came out, but what shines through is their strength and passion. And the statements of support were inspiring!
The focus of the "You Have a Purpose Project" is to let LGBT kids know that they do have a purpose and that we care. We ideally want more video messages and fewer comments. There is something visceral about seeing someone's expression and hearing another person's voice when they tell you that you matter. It is affirming to hear from LGBT people and their allies in the UK, Portugal or southern Indiana as they share their happiness when they tell us their personal stories and thank us for caring about them.
So please go to our page and "like" it and share it with your friends. Watch the videos that are posted, and consider making one yourself. Let's show our LGBT kids that they do matter and that they do have a purpose!