The following essay was submitted to The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an education reform newspaper, by an 11-year-old student who was only comfortable with publishing it on the condition of anonymity.
While neither The Notebook nor Rethinking Schools would ordinarily print anonymous submissions, the circumstances in this case are overshadowed by the power of the essay and the importance of the issue. As the editors of The Notebook wrote, “We publish it in hopes that more young people will someday soon feel comfortable expressing these viewpoints openly and without fear.”
“You’re gay.” That is what I have been hearing for six years – ever since I started school. Kids say those words as a way to insult each other.
But it always bothered me because I know people who are gay. When people use the words “You’re gay,” it makes it seem like there’s something wrong with being gay. I never thought that was right.
One night I told my mom that this was happening at school. She told me, “You should stand up to them.” She told me she was proud of me for not teasing other kids and for not using “gay” as an insult, but she said sometimes it wasn’t enough. Sometimes you should speak out when you think something’s wrong.
I thought about this for a long time. I never had the guts to do it. But one day I stood up for myself. It was a rainy day. My teacher was late for class. All of a sudden I heard, “You’re a faggot.” I wanted to see who said that, but then the teacher came in.
Later, I heard those words again. The person who said it sat right next to me. He said to a boy (who wasn’t very popular), “You’re a gay faggot. I bet your whole family is too.” I wanted to say something but the words just wouldn’t come out. I guess I was too scared.
I kept hearing him say those words, and I really wanted to say something. Finally, I did. I said, “What if he is gay? Then what you gonna do about it?” I waited a few seconds and then said, “That’s what I thought. See, you can’t say nothin’ ’cause there ain’t nothin’ to say. He’s just another human being like everyone else.” After I said that, it made me feel good. I really felt like I did something right.
After that day I really started to change. If anyone called someone gay, I would say something to them that would make them feel low. That stopped the gay-bashing for a while. After a few months, I told my mom what I had done. She was proud of me.
A few weeks later, somebody recognized what I did to help others. That somebody told me a secret that I would never forget. At recess she brought me to a quiet space that nobody played near.
I said, “Where you taking me?”
She told me, “I got to tell you something important.” I decided to go. I saw where she was taking me. It was the closet where all the balls we use to play with at recess were taken from.
She took me there and said, “I have seen what you did for people who were being teased. I just wanted to tell you that my parents are gay. It is very hard for me to listen to all this gay-bashing. I really like what you did.”
I asked, “Then how do you keep it a secret? I mean, at parent/teacher conferences, don’t people see you have two moms?”
She told me, “Only one of my moms stays in my life at school. The other is in my life at home. They keep it that way so I don’t get teased and to keep themselves safe.”
After I heard this, it made me very sad. I was sad for her and sad for all the people who had to listen to this. Later that day I kept thinking, “Why do people make such a deal about gay people? I thought people would know better than that.”
That night I told my mom the secret. She was quiet for the rest of the night, and so was I.