When I was teaching in South Africa, I had a student who was 16 years old who I had a close friendship with, one he did not share with the other teachers, and one day he pulled me aside and called his mother on the phone with me. He wanted her to hear him having fun and wanted me to tell her what a wonderful student he was, which was easy as he was one of our brightest and most enthusiastic. Then he thanked me and told me that he was grateful that I spoke to her as he had recently tried to kill himself and wanted her to know he was doing ok. I was in shock. I had no idea how to respond. Here was a 16 year old boy telling me he had just tried to kill himself the week before we had started camp and he was smiling and happy and fine now. I decided to not respond until we could find a private place to talk in order to get to the bottom of what lead him to be suicidal and share this information, obviously he wanted me to know and only me so I had enough sense to respect that and kept his secret until we spoke.
Then I sat him down and asked why he had tried to kill himself. I had always suspected this boy was gay, but we danced around the subject for the better part of an hour until he finally came out to me. He was so relieved, but also terrified. “So why did you try to kill yourself?” I asked again and he told me, “because my community would kill me if they ever found out.” Again, I was silenced. “What do you mean kill you?” I said in complete naïveté. And he explained to me that in his religion it was a crime punishable by death to be a homosexual and that he has seen many men killed for that very reason before. Now I was in uncharted territory. If you know anything about me you know I never hide who I am and I never apologize, and my coming out story was a beautiful one (insert video of my coming out). But clearly, this was not the strategy I would suggest here. I was only in South Africa for 2 weeks and I could not leave this beautiful child with the death sentence of being himself so I did the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. I told that boy he needed to lie. That until his 18th birthday when he could escape South Africa and his community he needed to lock up who he truly is deep inside his heart and put a protective case around it so that it could still glow and shine but that no one else would ever see it, for 2 WHOLE YEARS! To me I was giving him another form of jail sentence, but when faced with 2 years of living a lie or being killed immediately, the choice was simple.
After that meeting I went back to my Broadway in South Africa co-teachers and I wept, I sobbed, I remember Uzo cradling my head as tears wet her t-shirt. I NEVER WANTED TO DO THAT AGAIN! NEVER! It was the most horrific betrayal of everything that I stood for, but I knew, that I had saved his life, for now… And I believe this explains a lot of who I am today. Why I always tell you to #ShineBright and why I never apologize for being myself. Because I live in a country where I SHOULD NOT be killed for being gay, I should not be HURT, for who I love… and yet, still that was not the case for me.
I have never shared this but I believe this is the time. I have been beaten twice for being gay. Once in Allentown, PA and once in Hollywood, CA, and both after I had turned 30. I was targeted for who I was and beaten for who I was. In both cases the mental damage outweighed the physical, and also in both cases I was denied justice from the law. Both times the incident had happened where there were no cameras. No street cameras, no security cameras, nothing. And I was forced to let it go. But I built myself back up. My family helped me put myself together, and I grew strong again so that I could be strong for others. BECAUSE BEING BEATEN, HURT, OR KILLED FOR BEING YOURSELF IS HORRIFIC AND NOW I WILL SHINE SO BRIGHT THAT IT WILL BLIND YOUR HATRED OF ME AND YOUR IGNORANCE WITH GLITTER AND RAINBOWS AND LOVE!!!!!
I never want to tell a young boy that he has to stay in the closet ever again, and I am happy to say now that I never have to. But recently I have observed people going back into the closet, because its easy. I mean, the only thing that prevents me from being part of the majority is that I’m gay, so wouldn’t it be easier for me to just not be outwardly gay for the next four years and just re-emerge when we have a more tolerant administration. Yes it would. But I swore I would never tell another person to go back into the closet after South Africa and that certainly applies to myself, and if that means a fight, bring it ON!
I feel like the world has been given the freedom to say whatever the fuck it wants now, regardless of how mean or terrible it is. Well, if that is the case, then you have also given me the right to ignore your hate and encourage the world to fight back, with love of course. If you show tolerance in the face of intolerance you are the bigger person. But if you come at me for being who I am, well then… Let’s just say you are on the wrong side of history, and… karma is a f@#*ing bitch. You are beautiful EXACTLY as you are, gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, black, white, Mexican, male, female, gender fluid… ANYTHING! And if things get a little harder for a while, know you have me supporting you, my entire #Grandtourage, and anyone who values human life. Cause that’s really the point, we are all humans, and we are ALL equal.
Shine bright like a Frankie, and when people throw shade, SHINE F@#*ING BRIGHTER!