Cleveland High senior Andy Huynh shares his story about coming out, and how the Seattle Police Department's "Safe Place" campaign could have helped him.

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Editor’s note: As part of Education Lab this school year, we selected a panel of students to write essays about education issues that matter to them. This is the third in a series. Here are the first and second stories. 

When I was 12 years old, a mere seventh-grader at Mercer Middle School, there was a guy who showed affection toward me. I knew I was gay, but no one else did. I tried my best to play the role as a straight guy, because I knew at the time homosexuality wasn’t a highly accepted thing.

But I decided to tell some close friends that I was gay and that I wanted to come clean about my feelings to that guy. A few of them came with me for support, but when I asked him out he rejected me. The “affection” he showed me was a joke to him — I misread the signs.

It got worse. Among the group of people I thought were my close friends, one kid immediately told everyone what had happened. “Andy is gay. Andy got rejected by that guy,” he said.

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And so instead of coming out of the closet when I was ready, I was dragged out.

The following summer was the first time I was bullied for being gay, and cyber-bullied. Somebody made a fake Facebook account using my name and posted horrible things that weren’t true. I had to back away from all of it. The account was deactivated, but that didn’t stop the bullying.

In eighth grade — the first school year that everyone knew I was gay — I was targeted by many bullies. The worst was an acquaintance who was in one of my classes. One day he started shouting homophobic comments at me. I attempted to defend myself, but he continued shouting as I ran away crying. A teacher heard the comments and reported the incident to a school administrator. He was suspended, but then he contacted me to try and persuade me to tell the administrator to let it go. I decided to forgive him and I talked to the administrator.

He returned to school right away, but the bullying continued. He found out that my dad was against homosexuality, and so he threatened to tell my dad about my sexual identity. I reported this to the administrator. The administrator talked with him one-on-one and the threats were over. But the bullying continued over the school year. He threw broken pencils at me, and he continued to shout homophobic comments at me. I stayed strong and independent, because I knew that people like him will never change.

When I started high school at Cleveland, I entered a totally different world. Cleveland was filled with people who don’t care what someone’s sexuality is.  It was amazing.

The first school year outside the closet was a nightmare.  I only had a few close friends and cousins I could trust, but even that didn’t help me. They could only offer a few words of wisdom and small moments of comfort — all temporary solutions. I had to wake up every day knowing I was going to face more homophobia.

With the Seattle Police Department expanding their “safe place” campaign for LGBTQ students in Seattle Public Schools, I think about this question: What if there was a safe place when I came out of the closet? Maybe I wouldn’t have cried myself to sleep in fear of enduring bullying the next day. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like a target. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt that I was merely nothing, and if I disappeared from this world no one would care.

I like the idea of the “Safe Places” campaign, but for this campaign to work, schools should try their best to get every student to support the idea behind the campaign: That students shouldn’t feel powerless — that they can take action to end the bullying or harassment that they face. If the Safe Place campaign was present when I first came out the closet, things would have been different. I wouldn’t have felt defenseless all those years ago. I wouldn’t have felt that I had no say on what to do about the endless bullying.

 

Andy Huynh is a senior at Cleveland High and a photographer and designer at Cleveland Publications.