A few weeks ago, I started reading the book, When We Rise. My Life in the Movement, by Cleve Jones. The first sentence in the Preface reads,
“The movement saved my life.”
Cleve (who was mentored by Harvey Milk) was 17. It was 1971, and he was living in Arizona with his parents, and skipping gym (by faking an illness) to avoid getting beat up for being gay.
That year, Cleve found a Life Magazine article that read, “Homosexuals in Revolt!” He skimmed through the pages and saw a photo caption that read, “a small group called Gay Liberation Arizona Desert was holding meetings at Arizona State University.” He was going there the following year as his parents both worked at ASU. The final line in the Preface reads,
“I am pretty sure that was the exact moment I stopped planning to kill myself.”
Cleve had found “community” and, even though he had never met any of the people referred to in that magazine, he was no longer alone. He had found connection and hope.
Just ask someone recovering from addiction, someone who goes to church, someone moving to a new city…
Communities save lives…
Yesterday, two friends sent me the same news article about a 9-year-old boy in Colorado, Jamel Myles, who committed suicide last week after being bullied at school. It was four days into the school year and he had told his classmates that he was gay. The kids told him he should kill himself, and he did. Even though he was afraid of being rejected, he had “come out” to his mother that summer. She accepted him and told him that she loved him. She got it right. He did not get the same support and love from his friends.
Jamal hadn’t found a community that supported him…he was only 9 years-old.
That same day I was horrified to read about a 10-year-old boy in Los Angeles, Anthony Avalos, who was tortured by his mom and her boyfriend for five-six days after coming out for being gay. Some of his eight siblings were forced to participate. I won’t give you details…Anthony died a very painful and heartbreaking death.
Anthony was alone, and he was only 10 years old. He hadn’t found us.
This continues the Universe’s push to find answers for the challenges our LGBTQ+ youth experience. My current solution is to start a community of support and connection. So, even though the last thing I wanted to do was get more involved in social media, I started a Facebook group for just this reason. Our youth aren’t going to find a Life Magazine, social media is sometimes the only place they have to turn. Maybe someone will find us, a community that supports and accepts them. Maybe, just like Cleve in 1971, that will be what they need to turn off their plan to end their life.
Finding a community that understands and has been there can be the difference between life and death.
Those of us in our new online community have walked through challenging times. We’re not children anymore. We know that good times and tough times come and go and that you can get through both…as long as you keep walking through them. We all need community, and some are isolated…some have zero support. If you know anyone that could benefit from being a part of this community, please invite them. If that person is a child, invite his or her parent, as long as they’re supportive. They can show the child that it will get better, that they are not alone, and that there is more love and acceptance out here than they could ever possibly imagine.