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A Personal Journey from Ignorance to Purple Pride

On October 17th National Spirit Day, Professor Robin Street's class joined others nationally in support of anti-bullying by wearing purple
On October 17th National Spirit Day, Professor Robin Street’s class joined others nationally in support of anti-bullying by wearing purple (photo by Robert Jordan, University Communications)

Editor’s Note: With October being LGBTQ awareness month. This piece offers a great insight. 

What I did Thursday was part of the evolution of a personal journey

One conversation triggered a transforming journey in my life.

My stepson, Brennan, a high school student, had a young woman close friend. One morning, my husband discovered them, clothed, together in bed. Like any parent of a teenager, my husband was angry.

“It’s not what you think,” Brennan said.

From that incident came the truth: Brennan is gay. He had confided in his friend and they spent the night talking.

His dad and I immediately supported him. But I am ashamed to say was that my other reaction was: Why? Why had he chosen this? Brennan quickly taught me better. When I asked him he gently explained it to me.

“You don’t choose this, Robin,” he told me. “It chooses you. Do you think I would have chosen to be something that could cause people to taunt me and bully me?”

Then it clicked.

I did not choose to be born short. Just as I did not choose to be short, GLBT people do not put in a request to their parents, “Hey, let me be born gay.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.13.16 PMWe fear what we do not understand.

We fear what we do not understand. Now I understand that being GLBT is simply a difference among people, likely inherited, just like race or hair color or height. Brennan has several relatives who are also gay or lesbian.

Through Brennan, I came to realize just how many GLBT people there are in the world, and even in small-town Oxford.

Some years later, I met Mike Newton, who became my dear friend Mykki, a transgendered woman. Mykki certainly did not ask to be born transgendered and her life would have been infinitely easier had she not been born that way. She also taught me a great deal.

My Final Wake-Up Call

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.23.53 PMMy final wake-up call was learning about several gay young men who had killed themselves out of shame.

That radicalized me. Through the generosity of Journalism Dean Will Norton and Assistant Dean Charlie Mitchell, we launched a campaign in 2011 for journalism students called Diversity Rocks. It was to encourage acceptance and tolerance, with an anti-bullying component, for all minorities whether because of race, sexual orientation, disability or other difference.

Then recently, allegedly, several football players and audience members heckled and shouted slurs during a play about Matthew Shepherd, a young gay man who was murdered.

Time for another step in my journey.

Wear Purple to Show Support for GLBT Anti-Bullying

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.26.15 PMOn Thursday, Oct. 17, national Spirit Day, I ask my students to join others nationally in voluntarily wearing purple to class to show support for anti-bullying of people of GLBT people.

We invited any other students, faculty or staff to join us for a group show of support. Around 100 people did. Many more wanted to, but could not make it for the photo. That photo is featured with this blog.Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.31.10 PMThe next chapter?

Next chapter? At Ole Miss, we’ve come a very long way past hating or fearing a person just because of the color of his or her skin.

Isn’t it time we stop fearing and hating GLBT people just because of whom they love?

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.48.08 PM

Robin Street teaches journalism and public relations at the University of Mississippi. She is also a freelance journalist specializing in preventive health, fitness, nutrition and mental health. She has masters degrees in both journalism and wellness from Ole Miss.  rbstreet@olemiss.edu  

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