October 16: Stand up against LGBT hate

Spirit-DatTODAY, ON SPIRIT DAY, I’m thinking back on my 10-year high school reunion, held in a Red Lion banquet room in Medford, Oregon.

Spirit Day commemorates LGBT victims of bullying. I’m not L, G, B, or T, but I believe in the Spirit Day cause. I’d like to say I’ve always felt for picked-on gays, but the stink of homophobia never really gagged me until that 1989 evening at the Medford Red Lion.

I’m guessing maybe 150 people (out of a graduating class of nearly 700) attended. We sat in groups of six or more around our tables as a slideshow flashed a series of 10-year-old pictures from our high school days. Some pictures brought cheers, some groans, but nothing ignited the room like a picture of a redheaded boy in a scarf. When it appeared, the room roared one ugly yell:


The boy, Jeff, I never knew, except by sight. He wore colorful, satin-looking shirts and white pants and flashy shoes at a sneakers-and-boots-for-boys high school. He had friends. I often saw him with a bunch of drama girls and what I assumed were arty types. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, that he was gay. Which made him the crude kids’ punchline in the late-1970s.

I confess, I used the three-letter word that starts with f and rhymes with “gag” about 2,000 times in high school. Lots of us employed it as a non-specific insult you might use with any male friend, as in, “Hurry up, you fag.” Which excuses nothing. We should’ve known better.

As for Jeff, he must’ve been bullied nonstop. I heard people say vicious things about him all the time. His name became slang for “fairy,” and all those other homophobic labels.

Yeah, those were the “good old days” (sigh!). I’m still in touch with my best friend from high school, and he’s nostalgic about Medford in the 1970s. I know it’s wrong to blame the homophobia on where we lived. Gays were picked on everywhere in the 1970s. And it may have been a very loud minority that shouted that insult at the Red Lion in 1989.

All I know is there was no Spirit Day in the 1970s, and no one seemed to support gays at my school, and “bullying” was dismissed as a grade-school thing. I’m proud to support Spirit Day, and I hope we can make life more bearable for both gay and straight victims of bullying.

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