Essay prompt: In fewer than one thousand words, explain what you have done to shift a trend in the direction you think it should go.
A Family For Tolerance
By Jake Snider
I am the youngest of three siblings. My eldest brother, Tobias, graduated from high school nine years ago. My other brother, Dylan, graduated three years ago. I will graduate next year and my family will be leaving this school much better than we found it, because we have all worked hard to make it a more accepting and educated (no pun intended) place.
I came out to my family as gay when I was thirteen years old and worried about starting high school. Both of my brothers had been harassed by their classmates for being or “acting” queer and I was worried the same would happen to me. Dylan’s answer to my concerns surprised me; he said: “Things are better now. We’re paving the way and you get to help.” On the first day of high school, I summoned my courage and blurted out that I was gay to the first person who tried to talk to me. That classmate looked at me, wide eyed, and moved to sit on the other side of the room. (I don’t blame her, really.) Another classmate had overheard, and she pointedly sat next to me and started up a casual conversation. Everyone who was staring rapidly lost interest and went back to their own business.
Nine years before, when Tobias was a Sophomore, a Senior boy shoved him into the lockers and called him “queer.” According to the official incident report, Tobias jumped up, punched the Senior in the stomach, and shouted, “What did you call me?” According to Tobias, the witnesses either didn’t hear or chose not to report that he had added, “What’s wrong with being queer? Think that’s a reason to attack someone?” Tobias was suspended for three days and the other student wasn’t punished at all. I remember Tobias saying to Dylan and me (ages ten and six at the time) that he was not bothered by being called queer. What caused his anger was that the word had been used as an insult and an excuse for the other student’s violence.
“There is nothing wrong with being gay,” he said repeatedly. After his three days out of school, he started adding to that, “And violence is never the answer.”
Dylan came out to our family when he was fifteen, right as he got home from school one day. A classmate had gotten angry at him and told him to “stop being a faggot,” to which Dylan replied, “Never.” That had escalated into a screaming match, and, as evidence of the changing atmosphere of the school, the other boy had gotten detention and was forced to apologize to Dylan.
Though he says he experiences solely same-sex attraction, Dylan chooses to use the self-identifying label ‘queer,’ instead of ‘gay,’ in honor of Tobias and the way he had been attacked years before. When I told my brothers I was gay, Dylan, only partially joking, suggested I continue the tradition by taking on the label ‘faggot.’
An unusual aspect about the three of us is that Tobias, the only heterosexual in the set, is the one closest to being in the closet. If ever directly asked about our orientations, in situations where we feel safe enough to disclose them, both Dylan and I don’t hesitate to give out our labels. Tobias, on the other hand, refuses to tell anyone more distant than a friend that he is straight—he avoids the question, often turning it around and asking, “Does it matter?” Even when it’s clear that answering honestly would stop harassment, Tobias has remained ambiguous. He says he will start announcing his orientation to the public when saying “I’m straight” no longer carries privilege and safety in comparison with saying “I’m not straight,” but no sooner. He doesn’t want discriminatory privileges that place him above Dylan and me for no reason other than who we date. (“I am better than you two for a lot of reasons,” he once said to me, “but being straight isn’t one of them.”)
When Tobias was twenty-one years old, he accompanied Dylan to a protest against a bill that wanted to ban same-sex marriage in our state. When a supporter of the bill singled out Dylan and told him he was going to hell, Dylan couldn’t resist the urge to argue back. As it started to get heated, Tobias stepped between them and told Dylan to disengage, something all protesters had been told to do because it is impossible to change a homophobic person’s mind in that situation. For his efforts, Tobias had a glass bottle broken over the back of his head and landed in the hospital with a concussion. He has never expressed an ounce of regret regarding what he did and instead insists he would do it the same way over again if he ever got the chance.
My brothers and I stand up for equality every day. We are capable of doing this because we have the unwavering support of our father, who has raised us as a single dad since my mother passed away fourteen years ago. After Dylan came out as queer, our dad started doing research. He wondered if he had done something wrong, perhaps by not remarrying or by being too strict or not strict enough. Luckily, he believed the articles he read about how most indications point to people being born with their sexual orientation—and that whether it’s in the genes, conditioned, or a choice, experiencing same-sex attraction is normal and healthy.
My family has made my life so easy, from understanding my orientation all the way to coming out, and I cannot thank them enough. It is not fair that other people have less support than I do, and I am proud to say that my family has contributed to moving a high school and a community a little closer to where it should be.