"Save Our (Gay) Children"


Elementary school and Junior High were really rough years for me as a Gay child. I got beat up a lot for being a "sissy." I have a broken front tooth, five stitches in my upper lip, and 11 stitches over my left eye from the beatings I took in school, mainly Elementary school, which was in Fairbanks, Alaska. The worst was when I was in third grade and a sixth grade boy whom I had admired decided to make me his punching bag during recess. I didn't do a thing to provoke it, he just laid into me, calling me all the hate-names. A small group gathered around laughing and joining in on poking fun of me. It ended with him picking me up and throwing me into a garbage bin. I struck my head hard on the sharp rim and opened a big gash just over my left eye (right along the eyebrow), requiring the 11 stitches; the doctor later said if it had been a quarter-inch lower, I would have been blinded. I remember a teacher pulling me out of the garbage, and leaning me over to let the blood poor onto the white snow instead of all over me, and I was so humiliated I just kept screaming to that boy, "I hate you! I hate you!" Here, I had looked up to him and he had not only betrayed that, but really hurt me on so many levels. Being thrown in the trash was the worst part. Having others see me as discarded refuse....

Nordale Elementary
Me outside the renovated Nordale Elementary School
Fairbanks, Alaska, September 14 (my birthday) 2005

And of course I got written up at school for screaming that I hated him. Nothing happened to him that I know of. Then there was the humiliation of telling my parents what happened. My mother put her hands on her hips and smugly replied, "Well that's what you get for acting so squirrelly," her word for "faggotty". Not a hug, not an apology or soothing word to come from her. I think this is also one important way that the LGBT experience is so different from that of racism. We are left so ALONE in the horror of the moment and our own families are loathe to understand, support, aid, and comfort us when we need it most. A black girl gets called names and beat up on the playground, she goes home to her black family who dry her tears, kiss her boo-boos better, and help her dream of better days ahead because they all can empathize. I get called names and beat up for being too fabulous, and my irate mother scolds and blames me. What do you do with that as a kid?? How are you supposed to bond with your parents when they act like that?

When I formally came out to my paternal unit (I cannot and will not call him "father") in June 1986, he bluntly said to me - "Yeah, I've known since you were three. And tried everything in my power to prevent that." Years of his beatings, verbal and psychological abuse caved in on me and I replied, "Oh I know - I was at the other end of that." (I have not spoken to my paternal unit since 1992 when he confessed to me that he had contributed over $10,000 to the passage of Colorado's "Prop 2" - an anti-Gay amendment to their state constitution allowing discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation. Thankfully, in 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment, incisively reminding us that here in America, we're not accustomed to taking rights away, but granting them when the need is demonstrated.)

These violent and humiliating experiences we Gay children go through without resources or recourse are what's so ludicrous about the whole "save our children" mantra of homophobes. Anita Bryant, the beauty queen turned fruit juice pedaler codified the strategy in her 1970s "Save Our Children Crusade".

Anita Saves Kids
Anita Bryant on crusade, "Saving Our Children"

Although instrumental in getting several anti-Gay laws passed and pro-Gay laws repealed, she bowed out of the battle after a humiliating pie in the face event, a successful Gay-led boycott of Florida orange juice that cost her her job, a scandalous divorce from her domineering husband, and the discovery that one of her own sons is Gay.

Anita with Pie
Scraping pie from her face in Des Moines, October 1977
(Click for another view)

What about saving me from all the homophobic garbage? What school programs were/are in place to prevent that from happening? In my early school days (the late 1960s) NOTHING was available. Today, in most public high schools, there is certainly more and more support (generally through Gay-Straight Alliances). But get into the lower grades and suddenly everything's all messy and fearful and any thoughts about helping younger LGBT children to come to terms with the reality of our lives are blocked by fears of "recruiting" children into homosexuality, etc. But people aren't recruited into their sexual orientations. I was only shown heterosexual modelling by my parents, none of my teachers were LGBT (that I know of). I was certainly only taught heterosexuality in church. I was never sexually molested by anyone. I never knew an "out" homosexual until high school. So just when and how was I recruited?? Ironically, it's usually the churches that recruit the most heavily that accuse us of recruiting!

And the rhetoric in support of Proposition 8 was no different. Once again, we heard the cry, "Save the children! They'll be taught that homosexual relationships are normal and healthy - worthy of civil marriage!" (For one specific example, a prominent African American Mormon in southern California wrote to me, "The great push to teach our children in schools about homosexuality is appalling to me. Equally appalling is telling the parents that they have no rights to opt out of this education....Studies show that where homosexuality is taught, it also increases." Where oh where did he learn these lies?) Public educational procedures are already firmly in place and would not have been affected one iota by legalized same-sex marriage. Even otherwise, so what if 25 straight kids have to find out (in an age-appropriate manner of course) that Gay people exist and can get legally married; the two young Gay or Lesbian children who are in the same class NEED to hear it more desperately than you can imagine. I promise that none of the straight kids in the class are going to be adversly affected by acknowledging Gays and same-sex marriage; none will wake up one morning, newly recruited into homosexuality.

I'd give anything in the world to go back to my own childhood and hear a book read in 3rd grade about a prince who marries another prince. The amount of pain and alienation it would have saved me in the years to come is immeasurable....

So yes, save our Gay children! And make our straight ones more respectful and open-minded as well! Save the Gay kids from playground bullies who prey on us, from school staff and administrators who turn a blind eye to the name-calling and the acts of violence, and from school boards who refuse to act to protect us so we also can get a decent public education.

Connell O'Donovan