Thursday May 25, 2017
One of the most incredible things about people is that we are all different. We have different likes, dislikes, emotions and feelings. These differences contribute to the experiences we have throughout our life. Some experiences are challenging, some rewarding and some are both. One of the most important things I have learned is that no matter what I do, I cannot go back and change any of my past negative experiences. My past cannot be changed and my future cannot be predicted, but I do have control over my present.
My name is Adam and I am a primary and secondary school role model with Diversity Role Models. In my opinion, hatred and bullying are learned human behaviours and I truly believe that through education and role modelling children can learn to be better people and my hope is that one day LGBT bullying is eliminated.
I was born and lived in a rural farm town one hour outside of Seattle, WA, USA for the first 18 years of my life. At the time, I did not realise how little visible diversity there was in the people in this town. I had a very active and 'normal' early childhood. I enjoyed playing soccer, basketball, riding my bicycle, swimming, seeing friends and spending time with my family.
Around the age of ten years old is when I remember things started to change. I was overweight and I became the target for verbal abuse and bullying. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and I started to dislike school for the first time in my life.
I felt different, but I didn’t know why.
At the end of 9th grade (age 13), I put myself forward for the 10th grade class president election. My friends supported this decision and encouraged me and I was excited at the possibility of being the class president. I thought if I was in a position of power, the bullying and name calling would stop and I would be respected. I was wrong. I gave a speech in front of my class of 400 people. I was terribly nervous and shaking as I reached the podium. A few minutes into my speech, classmates started booing and then proceeded to chant homophobic comments. My vision went blurry, I wanted to cry, but I found the strength I needed to complete the speech.
I suffered from ill mental health from time to time throughout many of my teenage years. I wasn't aware of my sexuality until after high school, but thinking back I can understand my depression and feelings of sadness and isolation were a result of growing up gay in a 'straight' world.
I felt different, but I didn't know why. I was treated differently by classmates, but I didn’t understand why.
When I started to come to terms with my sexual orientation my behaviour was erratic and my mental health was suffering. I quit university, went from job to job, felt alone and feared that my life would no longer be the way I dreamed it to be. These years of personal darkness eventually came to an end when I started to accept myself. I don't think I started down a path towards success until I had LGBT role models and I started celebrating my authentic self.
One of my proudest moments was returning to university as a confident, out gay man and graduating with a first class honours degree. My experiences of bullying and ill mental health are two of the reasons I chose a career as a diversity and inclusion professional. In my career I get to recognise and appreciate all of the differences that make us unique.
Like physical health, we all have mental health. Some people have a mental illness and some people experience ill mental health from time to time. As a teenager, the years of bullying impacted my mental health negatively. Now as an adult, I recognise the need to continue to manage my mental health.
Reflecting on my childhood, I am grateful for the support from my family and friends. They accepted me, they supported me and they didn’t think of me as 'different'. They showed me unconditional love and even when experiencing ill mental health, they were there as my rock. I wish I could say that homophobic bullying and comments stop at some point in your life, but even as an adult I have experienced them, but I am still hopeful for the day homophobic bullying is eliminated.
If you're reading this and are experiencing bullying, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and I believe you can find the strength and there is support to help you get through it. If you are a family or a friend of someone who suffers from ill mental health or bullying, you can make a difference in their life, you can be their rock.