Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finding My Voice

by Mark Lockwood 

Yesterday I did something I swore I would never do - go back to the school where I was beaten up for being gay. YES Institute was invited to Miami Carol City High School for Bullying Prevention Week. As a speaker for YES Institute, I decided to go.

Bullying was the norm when I attended Carol City. Most of the bullying I saw and heard had something to do with gender and orientation. Wearing skinny jeans made you the target of slurs like “faggot” and “homo”; and if you were openly gay, you were beat up. It was as simple as that. Teachers who were aware of this school-wide issue did everything they could to help the situation, but nobody really knew how to make it stop.

A group of students picked a day to beat up all of the openly gay students on campus. Text messages were sent out that this group of kids was going to jump all of “them.” I was afraid to tell my mom about this, so I pretended to be sick so that I could stay home from school. In the end, it didn’t make a difference because, a week later, I was attacked.

I remember the attack vividly...

I am walking to the closest corner store to get snacks before catching the bus home from school. I see two guys in our school’s uniform, and they nod at me as I walk into the store. As soon as I come outside, one of the guys approaches me and asks for money. I tell him no and he immediately punches me in the face and calls me a “faggot.” Quickly, one attacker turns into four. I am knocked in the head with a stick and fall unconscious. The next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital with a bloody nose, a lacerated lip and a black eye.

Returning to Carol City was bittersweet. Walking back on the school’s campus made my stomach cringe. All those memories of being bullied, and feeling like I didn’t have a voice, began to creep back into my consciousness. I held on to my purpose - to create a safe space for all youth by using my voice and sharing my story. When I shared about being bullied at Carol City, students showed a lot of different emotions. Some were angry, others said how bullying is still an issue, and many remained uncomfortable even talking about gender and orientation.

I know my story touched a lot of hearts and minds, and maybe even reached a kid who is too afraid to be themselves because they could become the next target. I know because I was that kid. Today, I have found my voice, and I am proud to use it to make a difference, even when I’m afraid.

Mark shares his story at Miami Carol City High School