Volunteering to create the Equality House website was something that I felt drawn to do from the moment I first read about them. In the course of producing the website, I began thinking of my own experiences growing up. (I had a number of brushes with bullies. I spent one year terrified to walk from the bus stop to my house because of a girl who threatened to beat me up each day once I got off the bus. Those three blocks were terrible.) While this was a frightening period, it isn’t the one that haunts me to this day.
When I was eleven, I was insecure, shy, looked like Ralph Macchio, and was obsessed with three things: Esprit, Prince, and fitting in. There were two girls who went to my school that we had collectively identified as different. They were quiet, shy and had each other. One day, the two girls walked by my little clique hand-in-hand. One of the bolder kids sitting next to me shouted “lesbians!” I wasn’t quite sure what a lesbian was, but from the reaction of my friends, I knew it was a meant to be a put-down.
“They touch each other,” he said. “Lesbians!”
There was this one small quiet moment where I was trying to figure out what it all meant and then, before I knew it, we were running. Every single one of us was running at top speed, chasing those two girls. I remember the primal surge of excitement that ran through me as well all ran together, some of the kids shouting “Lesbians!” as we chased. The two girls were running as well, still hand-in-hand. I recall their long braids flapping in the wind. It seemed like a game and then, one of them turned to look back at us and what I saw on her face was absolute terror. It was horrible.
We hit the crest of a hill and everyone began descending, still running. Everyone, that is, except me. I stopped and watched them all disappear into some trees and then sat down, sickened. I waited there for an what felt like an eternity. I was too scared to run ahead and tell my friends to stop. I was frightened that, if I stood up to them, they’d think I was that terrible “L” word and that I’d be ostracized next. Instead, I did absolutely nothing. I was a complete and total coward. It never occurred to me that I could or should talk to a teacher about what happened.
I moved to a new city soon after this incident and made new friends. Just a few short years later, one of my closest friends in high school was gay. I know that coming out in our school wasn’t easy for him. However, by that time in life, I knew that gay wasn’t a dirty word and had figured out how to disregard the bullies rather than follow them.
It has been almost thirty years since that incident on the playground. To this day, I consider chasing those girls one of the most shameful moments of my life. I still think about them and wonder how they fared in life and hope that they found acceptance and happiness. If I could find either one of them, I would apologize for feebly standing on that hill instead of sticking up for them.
I volunteered for the Equality House project because I want kids to know that bullying is wrong. I volunteered for the Equality House project because I want to live in a world where each one of us is free to seek out and revel in love. And, I volunteered for the Equality House project because I wanted to find a way to finally say “I’m sorry.”