Over the past two weeks, Michigan’s LGBT community has been shocked to learn of the story of Steven Harmon, the 15-year-old from Portage, Mich. who was beaten up – including a skull fracture – simply because he’s gay. Or the follow up story of his triumphant effort to speak out about what was done to him, and his mother’s vow to do whatever it takes to pass hate crimes legislation in the state.
But Harmon’s story, though moving, is hardly extraordinary.
Every day in Michigan, the United States and around the world, LGBT people – from children to the elderly – are assaulted, degraded, humiliated and harassed because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. And every day we don’t act is another day we are condoning this.
In fact, just as we were beginning to learn the harrowing experiences of Steven Harmon, more stories came to light from Iraqi gays – stories that could make you cry just from reading about them; from hearing the horrific experiences endured and the despondence of those who survived, either because they were tortured and spared and live their lives scarred by what they experienced, or because they spend every day of their lives in fear, in hiding.
But from Iraqi gay men who are tortured and murdered by government-sanctioned efforts to Steven Harmon, who was beaten up by fellow teens, one thing remains the same: our need to act.
What does it take to drive individuals, groups or communities to action? Is it enough to know that bullying and hate crimes happen, or does it take a martyr to remind us that this is very, very real? Is Steven Harmon’s skull fracture enough, or do we have to wait until another teen like him is murdered in Michigan?
Whether local efforts or international actions, it takes a mobile, active base of supporters to help make sure that people like Steven and the Iraqis and every other LGBT person from Michigan to the Middle East is safe.
Some efforts are easier than others. Steven Harmon is bruised – but lucky to be alive, and lucky to have the support of a community that wants to make sure he is safe, happy and free from harassment or abuse by his peers. Others are not so lucky.
We need to push our legislators to get moving on our issues. If it takes sending Michigan Representatives and Senators the story of Steven Harmon to pass hate crimes legislation and anti-bullying bills, so be it. If it takes President Obama reading the horrifying stories of LGBT Iraqis to grant them asylum in the U.S., let’s find a way to get them on his desk. Being upset and sympathetic toward those who have been hurt isn’t enough. Let’s turn our anger into action.
For those of us who have the means, the support, the friends, the community centers and the time, we owe it to our community and ourselves to make sure that we never have to read another headline about a bullied teen or a murdered gay person. Let’s do all we can to make those stories disappear.