Sharing a Note I Once Wrote to a Very Artsy Guy

by on March 5, 2011 · 25 comments

in Civil Rights, Education, From the Soul, Popular

Recently I sat and wrote and chatted with some of the coolest people alive. No jive. Most of them happen to be gay or lesbian but among us there were straight allies like me. Man, I’ll be glad when our gay brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts and cousins and friends are free. Then we wouldn’t have to have a Gay Straight Alliance, a GSA – because the schools would love their gay children enough to provide them the safety and respect they need without them having to organize their own comfort zone. But that’s my idealism talking there.

The sad truth is schools often are not safe places for gay students and I would like to share more of such thinking through a note I once wrote to a boy named Mitchell.

It begins:

Hi, Mitchell. I’ve been thinking about you ever since I heard your mother say: “But, he’s not a stereotypical boy.”

I knew, through the tone of her voice, that she wasn’t about to share one of those “Everybody lived happily ever after” stories. This day was not about fantasies. The day was dedicated to life’s realities, a day when Senator Sheila Kuehl’s Select Committee on Violence and Discrimination in Schools listened to our testimonies. Your mother’s and mine among others.

Your mother’s story about you weakened my knees, bringing tears to my eyes as she described how tough school has been for you socially, how hard it has been for you to be who you were meant to be. Such should never be.

Mitchell, saying this surely might not ease your pain, or alter your reality, but I just have to tell you that I have been a principal at many a school and in every one of them your safety would have been my personal guarantee. Believe me. Cuz, see, I don’t put up with bigotry. At anyone of my schools you could have felt absolutely free to be who you are as long as you weren’t the kind of person who would do the things that people have done to you.

And anyone who would have bullied you would have had me in their face in a second or two. And the first thing I would want them to know is that how they are treating you bothers me too. And I’d say something like: “Mitchell is a friend of mine and I just won’t tolerate you harassing him at anytime.” And I’d just have to let them know that, as far as your best friends always being girls, well, so, too, have mine.

The truth is, Mitchell, we’re all alike in some ways, and we’re different in some ways, and I’d have the bullies consider and count the ways. Like, for instance, you’ve never played with trucks or liked sports. Well, neither have I had an affinity for trucks at any stage of my lifetime but I’ve spent most of my lifetime playing sports of nearly every kind. Everybody has a life. You have yours and I have mine. You like to wear dresses and I do not, knowing that a 64 year (then) old gray bearded African American man in a Christine Dior would make the traffic stop. And makeup, I always hope that the directors of plays that I’m in forget to ask me to put that stuff on my skin. But I can still be your friend. And, as far as your detractors go, all of this is what I would explain to them. And I would surely hip them to the fact that like your mother described you, I am very artsy too.

Very artsy is exactly who you would be allowed to be at any school that was influenced by me. When I would share my prose and poetry at some assembly, you could come up and do your thing. We could dance. And sing. Or perform a comedy routine. Or a serious scene. Make them laugh and make them cry. That’s what very artsy people do. That’s how we very artsy people get by.

Very artsy me and very artsy you, on the go, bringing down the house at the annual talent show. Ginger Spice and Scary Spice in the spotlight’s glow, on top of the world, everybody shouting, “You go, Spice Girls!” You in your platform tennis shoes and me in my bare feet because there are no platform tennis shoes that can fit my big old size 14 AA feet and if I cramped them in any less sized shoes I would be singing the lowdown achy breaky foot blues but we would be a hit on the 11 O’clock News.

Well, Mitchell, that’s how I would do it if I were your principal. But I’m not and I can only say to someone who is: “Dear Mr Mrs Miss or Ms, this is how it is: if the children see that you truly love this very artsy boy and appreciate him for who he is and are willing to let him shine and show off his stuff, the children will too.”

Mitchell, they just might be of help to you if they approach it personally. It sure has worked for me. The main thing is: you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Keep the faith, sweet boy. You are a joy.


Question: Is your neighborhood school safe for LGBTQ kids?

Photo Courtesy of paris_corrupted via flickr

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

soahc March 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

This comment has been removed by the Editors due to violations of the OB Rag comment policy.


Michelle March 7, 2011 at 10:41 am

I don’t think sexuality was the pervasive theme in this piece. The writer was discussing the general lack of support given to different students who display an alternative set of interests…and I shudder to think that that support is ever considered “creepy”.


Ernie McCray March 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Hey, all I was trying to say is Mitchell should be allowed to be who he is. What was creepy was the way he was being treated at his school. He might not be gay but what he “discovered for himself” is that who he is is not valued at his school.
As to the high school aged kids I opened this piece with, the majority of them are “gay” by their own definition.
Many of them have problems in school relating to being bullied or made fun of because adults are “minding THEIR own f—–g business” rather than protecting them, sometimes telling “gay” jokes in class. Were you in San Diego a few years ago when Roger Hedgecock used the power of his radio show to ridicule gay people? Maybe you can live with that. I can’t. As a senior citizen, how children, all children are treated, is very much my business.


soahc March 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

This comment has been removed by the Editors due to violations of the OB Rag comment policy.


thinking out loud March 8, 2011 at 10:57 am

If you were trying to say “he should be allowed to be who he is” , the photo should have said ‘ I am who I am” not a statement about being gay and
“getting over it” ……You blurred the two issues bullying and homosexuality.
You also used the words gay straight or lesbian 8 times in the introduction …But you did not use bullying one time….this would lead me to think the piece is about young children s sexuality…
They call it being Gay, but seems from the comments here there is not much to be gay or happy about…crazy mixed up world. Next thing they probably will say is people are ” born gay”…..


Ernie McCray March 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

Good point regarding blurring the issues.


Wireless Mike March 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm

How can kids “discover for themselves” in an environment that is overwhelmingly biased against people who are gay? All they will discover is that they are afraid to admit to being anything other than straight.

As for children knowing their sexuality, I knew I was gay by age 12, and there has never been a hint of doubt in my mind. I know people who realized they were gay at a much younger age. On the other hand, some people stay in denial and do not admit it to themselves until middle age, choosing to live a lie for years because of social pressure to be straight. There is a big difference between what a young person knows and what they are willing to admit in a judgmental society.

How can gay kids admit to who they really are, when they see other gay kids being bullied and beaten while parents and teachers side with the bullies? Part of an adult’s “f…ing business” is to protect kids and provide them an environment where they can grow into the people they really are, and to reach their full potential in life, without living lies to protect themselves from prejudice. That can’t happen when kids are afraid of being ridiculed, beaten or abandoned for admitting the truth of who they are.


Ernie McCray March 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm

It couldn’t be stated any better, Wireless Mike.


soahc March 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm

This comment has been removed by the Editors due to violations of the OB Rag comment policy.


Ernie McCray March 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm

No one here is advocating addressing 12 year olds regarding their sexuality. This isn’t about sex, it’s about making safe environments for kids. Doing that requires much more from people than “focusing on ourselves” considering that gay students are bullied at school. Please stop badgering us for caring. You are a big part of the problem! Because you don’t care.


Wireless Mike March 8, 2011 at 2:14 am

Soahc, you obviously have no clue about the hell that gay kids are put through growing up in our society. Like most gay adults, I lived it. It always amazes me that so many straight people insist they know more about being gay than gay people do.

The fact that you misinterpret the freedom for kids to grow up without being hated as being some sort of perverse “coaching” makes me absolutely sick. This is not about “coaching” kids sexually, it is about removing the fear kids have to admit to who they really are and what they really feel so they can grow up to live fulfilling, happy lives. It is about allowing kids to grow up being proud and confident in who they are while being truthful with themselves and others, and not having to lie to fit into a stereotype that society has forced on them.

Gay teens are some of the most oppressed, misunderstood and vulnerable people in our society. Isn’t it better to protect ALL kids from hate and ridicule, instead of casting the gay ones to the wolves? And is is any wonder that so few adults are willing to help gay teens with their problems, with people like you making it sound like something dirty?

If you think that raising kids in a safe, supportive environment is somehow “creepy”, then there is nothing more to say.


soahc March 8, 2011 at 11:57 am

This comment has been removed by the Editors due to violations of the OB Rag comment policy.


Ernie McCray March 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Is sex the only thing on your mind?


Wireless Mike March 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Soahc, you have put a perverse sexual spin on everything in this discussion. Your comments clearly illustrate why gay teens are in danger and why they can’t get protection or advice when they need it.

Your comments also demonstrate that anti-gay hatred is alive and well.


Ernie McCray March 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I mean, really. This Soahc is the epitome of how ingrained anti-gay hatred is in the world. Lately because of a number of positive steps forward as far as gay rights and so on are concerned I’ve been feeling hopeful that things are getting a tad better. I still feel that way but this Soahc has dampened my spirit. I hate it when people screw with you just for the sake of screwing with you.
Now, I’ve got to put some Sly on or somebody to just amp my mood. Whew!


Patty Jones March 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I almost feel like I need to apologize for this “soahc” person, because I have been away and haven’t seen how far this has gone.

However I offer no apology for sending any further comments from soahc, whoever they may be, to permanent moderation. Adios you poor, ignorant soul.


Jon March 9, 2011 at 6:29 am

Well done Ernie,
Don’t let some anonymous poster try to spin your eloquent letter into something it’s not. I think it should be pointed out that “gay” is not synonymous with “sex”. Can’t it also be about emotional connections and personal identity? I re-read your letter, and did not notice anywhere that you advocated talking to this person about their sexual life. This commenter obviously has some deep seeded issues when it comes to that topic, and is trying to get those out. I would suggest they talk to a professional. I also suggest ignoring all that nonsense and fear and keep up the good fight! As always, you bring out the best in people and inspire compassion, understanding and peace with your writing. Thank you.


Ernie McCray March 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

Thanks, Jon:
I have to admit that, although I knew I hadn’t advocated talking to Mitchell about his sexual life, soahc, through the sheer power of his or her nonsense, had me wondering for a moment and had me scrambling to re-read what I had written. I’m back on course, though.


soahc March 8, 2011 at 7:04 pm

This comment has been removed by the Editors due to violations of the OB Rag comment policy.


Virginia Franco March 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm

“Stand By Me”; it’s universal beauty still makes me sigh; a heartfelt longing …
Thank you, Ernie


Lorraine Demi March 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm

As always, your deep concern for all kids is fantastic and motivating. It’s all been said more eloquently than I will, but it is clear that this article is nothing about influencing anyone’s sexuality (which is, by the way, impossible) … but about protecting, valuing and lifting up all kids, especially those treated badly by our society, their peers and adults who should be doing something productive for every single child they come into contact with. Everyone deserves to feel safe and loved at all times. And on the topic of gay kids — I know people who knew by age 4 that they were gay (because being gay isn’t about sex, it’s about the core of who a person is … it’s about self-awareness), and people who at age 40 figured out what felt different about their lives that whole time and came out then — I also know people who dropped out of high school because the environment was just not amenable at all for a gay kid, creative kid, bi kid, etc. and they just couldn’t handle the stress and bullying and pretending (either pretending to be someone else or to not be bothered by the bullying). How can we teach children to treat each other with kindness and respect if we don’t absolutely DEMAND kindness and respect for each and every child, no matter what? We can’t. We just can’t. And so, we must demand this. You are right, Ernie … and so is everyone else who stands up for every kid everywhere, no matter what. Thank you, Ernie!


Ernie McCray March 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Thank you, Lorraine, for bringing it back to all people need to feel wanted and respected.
And my personal approach to creating a safe environment for all children is I model what I want and “expect” rather than “demand” that others do the same. That was the point I was trying to reach through my note to Mitchell. To me the best chance we have of educating students to the best we can is when we make it as personal and human as possible – hellos, high fives, hugs, talking about the Chargers and the Padres and the president and Snoop and peace in the Middle East, 4 Square, hoops, scrabble, doing the latest dance steps, “Hey, I’ll race you to the corner.” That’s my style. Sets a nice tone at a school. Makes people want to be there and by people I mean kids. They get it. Adults spend far too much time trying to figure out what “the game” is or creating some diversion that you have to attend to when you could be creating even more learning opportunities and making the three R’s exciting relevant and fun. soahc is not alone in the kind of thinking he’s shared.
But, anyway, you’re right. The system should demand that everyone is embraced in our schools. Gay students haven’t quite made it to full citizenship status in our schools simply because the system hasn’t granted it to them. Schools like to say: “We don’t make any distinctions in our rules. They apply to everybody.” That’s the trouble because our society, itself, hasn’t included gay people in the category of “everybody” so our schools have to educate society and be very specific in saying “including our gay and lesbian and transgendered and bisexual and questioning” students.


Old Hermit Dave March 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Another wonderful read, thanks Ernie.


Brittany Bailey March 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm


What a beautiful letter. I loved the lyrical, whimsical style. It reminds me of reading Dr Seuss books as a child and feeling the encouragement, love and support. Kids should be free to do what they need to do- express themselves, feel, grow, and learn how to go from a well of potential into a efficacious, and worthwhile human being. Thank you for illustrating that what makes a worthwhile human being is not the label of “gay” or “straight” – but for each of us to honestly express who we are inside- and do our ‘thing’.

And to Wireless Mike, thank you for sharing your story. I know it was a brave thing for you, and I am sorry that someone in our community felt the need to put you down. Keep doing your thing.


Paula Richter- Dycaico December 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

Love your article Ernie!

As a student fortunate enough to attend Muir where you were the Principal, mentor, friend and protector of us all, I can bear witness to how your philosophy of acceptance and anti bullying made school a wonderful to grow and learn. We were so fortunate to be in an environment of peace and acceptance.

I was bullied and beat up in middle school because of my appearance as a multi racial person who didn’t know until last year that I was in fact multi- racial. Talk about confusion :)

I came to Muir shy and very guarded. After the first few months I came to find that I had landed in a an amazing place where I didn’t have to be defined as anything but me and was accepted as such.

I only wish that we had videotaped a year in the life at Muir and sent it to all schools to see how to nurture and grow healthy people with self esteem and no bullying.

Thank you Ernie!


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