Yesterday was Spirit Day. I looked at myself in the mirror as I tied my purple necktie daintily. It was the only piece of purple clothing I own. I remembered when I was in high school and used to conduct this same tie-tying ritual every morning, albeit more sloppily. I wore a purple tie back then too, but it was part of my uniform, not a personal statement.
Back when I was in high school, I was bullied and harassed for practically every aspect of my identity. I was, and still am, skinny, so I was referred to as a "stick". My high voice, cracking with anxiety, was a constant source of amusement for my classmates. I dreaded having to answer a question or give presentations, because every sound I made resulted in laughter from everyone around me. As one of few Latinos in my school, I was called "illegal", "wetback", and told to "go back to Mexico". What I remember most vividly, though, is how much pain I went through because of my sexual orientation.
I went to an all-boys, Catholic high school. Every day, every class even, began with prayer and we were ushered to Mass every month. Our principal reminded us daily that we were all family, all 'brothers in Christ'. Yet, that fraternity seemed to only apply to certain people. I distinctly remember during class one day in my freshman year, someone asked my theology teacher about the Church's position on gay people. Red in the face and practically shaking with anger, he questioned why those people were "even allowed to exist". I sank into my seat and wanted desperately to disappear, because my very existence had just been deemed unworthy of God's love.
When I was later outed in my junior year, things only got worse. I was once openly referred to as a faggot in the classroom while my teacher looked on, not bothering to say a word. I was called fag, fairy, homo-- every name in the book. I was pushed into lockers. I had vile things written about me in the school bathrooms. I was once followed out the library and punched in the face because I dared to wear a rainbow wristband. I wanted to drop out.
I contemplated suicide a lot during this time. I am certain that if it weren't for the small band of friends and supportive teachers that I had, I would not be sharing this story with you right now. I am thankful for their love and courage every day. It truly saved me during the darkest times of my life.
As I put my tie on yesterday morning, I remembered all of this pain, and I thought of all the LGBTQ youth out there that suffer in silence in their schools, just as I did. Many of them are still being taught, explicitly or otherwise, that their relationships are inferior or that their lifestyles are "sinful". I think particularly of the trans* and GNC students that are constantly misgendered by their teachers or are policed every time they need to use the bathroom, changing room, and so on. My heart breaks every time I read another story of an LGBTQ teen who is thrown out from their home, or has to fight school administrators just to receive an education free from harassment, or worse, ends their life. I wish I could hug each one of them and tell them how beautiful and special they are.
For me, there is a theology of Spirit Day. It isn't 'turn the other cheek' as my Christian neighbors say. For me, the spirituality of Spirit Day is resting in the truth that, as LGBTQ people, we are all loved by a Power higher than ourselves. Human beings may try to impose limits on that love but ultimately they fail--how can something infinite like the love of God have conditions? This love provides for us in every respect, protecting us and sheltering us at all times. Although this world is full of hatred and violence, we should, as Swami Vivekananda put it, "always say, 'I have no fear'," because God's love is looking after us at every moment.
It is by remembering divine love that I feel empowered to continue fighting for LGBTQ youth everywhere. On Spirit Day, my prayer was that all of those kids know that God loves you--and I love you--just as you are. When you saw someone wearing purple, I hope you remembered that love.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.