Friday, October 22, 2010

Making it Better - In Norman, Oklahoma

A few days before October’s LGBT history month, residents of Norman, Oklahoma were amidst the throes of a battle to determine whether the city would be afforded the ability to officially acknowledge the month as such. Dozens of protesters attended September 28th’s city council meeting, where supporters and opponents spent several grueling hours debating the proclamation that essentially promotes understanding and equal treatment of those within the LGBT community for those tangential to it.

It took approximately three hours for the Council to pass the proclamation 7-1. PFLAG’s own Norman Chapter President Kay Hamm was witness to the events that took place, and reported, “Our supporters were eloquent, factual, and related compelling personal stories. In the end, each councilmember and the mayor [Cindy Rosenthal] spoke…about the importance of equality for all of Norman’s citizens that outweighed the threats to vote them out of office during the next election cycle.”

Part of the Proclamation states, “the City of Norman includes productive and caring citizens who happen to be GLBT, who own businesses within the city, and who contribute to our community through the arts, education, science, politics, faith, health care, public service, and all other walks of life.”

Sadly, despite the passing of the proclamation, 19-year-old Zach Harrington was more affected by what took place at the meeting rather than what resulted from it. Harrington was a talented aspiring musician. He graduated from Norman North High School, where he was in band, orchestra, and became the first male captain of the color guard. It was in high school that he became familiar with bullying, requesting to transfer schools after facing much torment.

What may have been more grievous for Zach than the bullying faced in the past or what specifically transpired at the city council meeting was the idea that the adults sitting before him were operating under the same insecurities and ignorance that the teenagers he dealt with in the past had exhibited. The thought may have dawned on him: How can I hold on to the idea that “it gets better” when I’m being subjected to the same type of torment I was as a teenager, now from those twice and three times my age?

This week, news of another college-aged student committing suicide only amplifies the horror for students watching around the country that things might not immediately get better. If we disingenuously continue telling troubled youth that their situation will instantly improve without actually taking measurable steps to improve it, then that belief alone will wear thin. Ultimately, what the LGBT-supportive residents of Norman, Oklahoma worked to accomplish is the type of action-driven change needed to rid our communities of the ignorance that has given our older youth a reason to fear walking down their community’s streets, passing their neighbors houses, as much as they feared their school’s hallways as younger teens. Positive steps taken by those in authority, often provoked by members of the community, are what contribute to eventual national legislation and the changes in opinion on a large scale.

While the loss of life in Norman is extremely tragic and unfortunate, PFLAG salutes those in Norman and other proactive individuals willing to put up a fight for advances that will contribute to greater knowledge and understanding of the LGBT community, and will help to end the ignorance that presently exists in our communities in the future. It is important to remember not only to say positive things, but to also be visible advocates in your communities for those you may not even realize are looking on. To learn what you can do to become involved in your community, take a look at our top ten ways to promote safe schools and communities.

This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

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