The Canadian Institutes of Health Research released a report this week highlighting the fact that the rate of discrimination and bullying experienced by students who identify as LGBTQ is three times higher than for heterosexual youth.
This info slapped me from my morning newspaper-building routine. It immediately took me back to Grade 9, when I was an undersized, under-achieving victim.
My size disadvantage set the stage for this mistreatment way back in Grade 1. I demonstrated a quickness for learning and overall aptitude for the curriculum early on, and the teachers recommended that I be moved up to Grade 2 to challenge and accelerate my schooling.
I was too young to understand the ramifications, and my parents thought it was a brilliant opportunity to have my instruction match my energy and hunger for learning while gaining a year of my life.
I quickly realized that most of the kids in my homeroom class resented my presence, and they assumed I was arrogant. I was too terrified of the bigger kids to think I was superior.
This imbalance finally took root in Grade 9, when the older kids hit puberty and were lucky enough to have growth spurts.
One boy, in particular — John M. — was merciless in his torment of the smaller boys in our grade. He would regularly take the rubber insert from the handles of his Adidas bag and whip the smaller boys with it. It left welts on our arms and back for days. I was afraid to show my arms or back to my family and worked to hide the bruises. He would also slap or punch us in the hallways with no provocation. He would do it hard enough to inflict pain, but not so hard that it would do lasting damage.
This abuse irreparably damaged my self-esteem. I spiralled into complete apathy in a month. Some days I couldn’t be bothered to wash my greasy hair. As you’d imagine, this was like painting a target on my back for my bully. I developed intense anxiety, especially when having to walk the gauntlet of the main hallway, knowing I was likely to be hit or ridiculed.
Finally, during one particularly humiliating game of “why are you punching yourself?” in front of the entire class and before the teacher arrived, I stood up. John M. was stunned.
“Oh, so you’re standing up now?”
“My dad said I should stand up to bullying.”
I was so naive that I thought my dad meant to literally stand up. Somehow it worked. I blocked his punches and he got bored and went to another, less-resistant victim.
I was straight and was scarred for my life. Imagine having to endure this kind of taunting, this verbal and physical abuse, as an LGBTQ person. Oh, and I didn’t have social media and cyber-bullying to deal with in the late ’70s, either.
Luckily, I had parents who were always there to support me, and a close group of friends who accepted me and stood up for me when things got nasty.
So it’s not just about standing up for yourself, it’s standing up for everyone around you.