I almost overslept for work ... 5 times this month.
My roommate made a home-cooked, sit-down dinner with her boyfriend ... 5 times this month.I read The Week for interview prep ... 5 times this month.
I called Faith Ossmann from the Miss New York Board ... 5 times this month.
Somewhere, a boy committed suicide because he was bullied at school for being gay
... 5 times this month.
Really? How do you write about something like this?
Yesterday, I spent the day at Great Neck Middle School, talking to four blocks of classes about my platform as Miss New York and the focus I have on bullying amongst youth. It's not a motivational speech when I go into a school; it's a challenge. I cut through and ask these kids to share their stories, to open up and share what they are really seeing, hearing and feeling at school. When I asked, "So who is responsible for changing the spread of bullying?" a kid in each class raised his or her hand and said "We are." Ownership. That's what I'm challenging these kids to do - to take ownership and responsibility for changing their own schools and their own generation.
I held up photos of the four boys who have committed suicide in the past month. (Little did I even know that another openly gay 19 year old had committed suicide the day before...#5) They all recognized Tyler Clementi, the 19 year old freshman at Rutgers who jumped off the George Washington Bridge this week after being secretly videotaped with another boy in his dorm room by his roommate, who then leaked the video onto the Internet. I told the stories of Asher Brown (13yrs, shot in his head, TX), Seth Walsh (13yrs, hanging, CA), Billy Lucas (15yrs, hanging, IN). When the teacher slid a rainbow flag that read safe space onto the desk next to me, I knew it was my cue. I had been given the go ahead to really talk about why these kids had committed suicide - anti-gay bullying. These four boys had been bullied and harassed in and out of school to a point where they only saw suicide as the way out. This has become a trend. And we are in crisis. I played Ellen Degeneres' video and let the kids tell me their reactions. They were polite and respectful, interested and wise, engaged and undoubtedly affected. What a way to start off my school visits - regardless of the disgusting rain I slushed through to get there.
Once again, I hear that these students are ahead of the game in their acceptance; they said that if those boys had gone to their school, they would not have killed themselves because they would have been accepted, or the teachers would have done something to stop it. That's incredible to hear. But it's still happening and it's something, specifically the issue of gay youth since kids are coming out so early now, that we have to address. I was so grateful to have been able to really dig deep with these kids and leave a lasting impression. "When you watch Miss America on ABC on January 15 with your families, what are you going to tell them that Miss New York told you at school?"
- That being gay is ok and you're not a bad person because of it.
- That no one should be bullied or made fun of because they're different.
- Stand up for what you believe in and help your friends.
- Everything you say is important and you should think before you speak or act.
From Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, I have seen that many of the Class of 2011 Miss America Contestants from all across the country are talking about bullying in schools. As I wrote to one of them, if our class can make a significant dent in the epidemic that bullying has become, that will be the legacy of our class; and I'm confident that we are on that road.
More photos in my Photo Gallery & October Events