Going home to New York this summer to collect stories for Devote was particularly meaningful for me, having grown up on Long Island. I have many vivid memories of being back in high school and feeling so alone and confused by longings I had for certain other girls. But it was the mid-nineties. There was no dialogue around sexuality and gender identity or safe havens like an LGBT alliance where I could come to know myself and other like-minded peers. I don’t believe there was a single ‘out’ student in the whole school, including on any of my sports teams.
Things have definitely changed. Sitting down with 16-year-old bullying victim turned activist, Corey Bernstein, the whole Devote crew was blown away by the courage this young man displays speaking out for safe schools. For him, part of being an effective advocate is opening up about what he endured and how it feels seeing so many kids his age take their lives rather than waiting for things to get better.
Luckily, there are a growing number of opportunities for people like Corey to channel their experiences into making a difference. There are resources sprouting up all over the place to support queer and questioning youth. Yet, Jamey Rodemeyer recently took his life rather than be taunted another day, and at a school dance just after his death, some of his sister’s peers teased her about it. It is everyone’s responsibility to nourish young minds and shield them from hate – directed at themselves and others.
Down the street from where I live now in Los Angeles, there is a memorial for Robert F. Kennedy outside the former Ambassador Hotel, where he was assassinated on June 5th, 1968 following a victory speech for the California primary. Sometimes, I walk my dogs there in the morning to gaze at a wall etched with quotes spoken by him, as well as brothers John and Edward, Maya Angelou, George Bernard Shaw, and Caesar Chavez, to name a few.
One quote by Robert Kennedy is especially relevant now that we are facing an epidemic where young people are committing suicide because there is no universal support system in place empowering them to find and be themselves.
‘Here before us today there are hundreds of young people. America should allow them to be anything which their talent and intelligence can make them. If America fails these young people, if through indifference or callousness they are denied jobs, opportunities, or education, then the American dream will have failed.”