Last night, Göran and I attended a Minneapolis screening of the film Bullied, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So far, over 30,000 copies of the film have been distributed to American schools, to assist with efforts to educate about the problem of anti-gay bullying. The film was shown at Central Lutheran Church -- the church supposedly "smitten" by God for hosting the national ELCA convention that voted to allow same-sex partnered Lutheran pastors to be ordained.
Göran knows Jamie Nabozny, whose story the film told, and whose 1996 court case made history by finding that school administrators were liable for failing to protect Jamie from bullying. Jamie literally fled to Minneapolis to escape the bullying in his home town of Ashland, Wisconsin, and eventually joined the gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, of which Göran is a founding member. More importantly, both Göran and I are familiar with the kind of bullying Jamie -- and so many other gay teens -- have had to endure and continue to endure in American schools. Fortunately I escaped the kind of physical attacks Jamie suffered; Göran did not. After watching the film, Göran told me for the first time about being physically assaulted in his high school's gymnasium shower. He described how being both black and gay in a predominantly white school in Iowa meant physical threats and assaults, as well as constant verbal harassment.
Göran and I both know that anti-gay bullying has nothing to do with our "acting gay," as school administrators asserted when Jamie went to them to plead for protection. We were just being ourselves.
The film was followed by short talks by leaders of the SPLC and by Jamie Nabozny. But the most heart-wrenching talk was that given by Tammy Aaberg, the mother of 13-year-old Justin Aaberg, who committed suicide last July as the result of anti-gay bullying in the Anoka, Minnesota school system. It seemed impossible to me that she should find the strength to address this kind of gathering a mere four months after finding her son hanged in his bedroom. It took incredible courage for her to stand before us, as she struggled to control her emotions long enough to communicate a clear and powerful message about how our schools aren't doing enough to make sure that all its children are valued and safe.
I want to thank the Southern Poverty Law Center for what it's doing to educate about this. I also want to thank Central Lutheran Church for hosting this event. Every single pew in that great cathedral was full. Just being there and partaking of the incredibly powerful feeling of love, care, and quiet determination to do the right thing was amazing. It was incredible being there, and having this feeling that all these people surrounding me were there on my side. I long for the day every church will show that same kind of commitment, and be the same kind of sanctuary of hope for GLBT folks.