Last night I had the esteemed honor of speaking at this year's New York Pride Rally. Little did I know that Lady Ga-Ga was waiting in the wings to go on after me. It was a truly magical evening. I've published my speech below for those who couldn't be there.
Heritage of Pride speech- “Turn Your Wounds Into Wisdom.”
By: James Michael Angelo- Co-Chair-GLSEN-NYC
Good evening New York and Happy Pride! What an honor it is to be here this evening. I'd like to thank the entire Heritage of Pride committee for their hard work in producing tonight's event. Let me start off by sharing why I got involved with GLSEN. By the time I was fourteen years old, like so many of us here tonight, I had already endured three long years of severe bullying for being gay. Those countless acts of abuse culminated one night when a group of 5 to 6 eighteen year old boys jumped me in the woods, and gang beat me for several minutes. As I lay curled up on the cold ground these boys then circled around me, unzipped their pants and collectively urinated all over my shivering body while laughing and yelling things like, "That’s what faggots deserve.”
It has taken me twenty years to work through the shame, anger and resentment of that hate-crime and the three years leading up to it. I became an aggressive, over-sensitive and angry gay man always on the defense and eventually turned to alcohol, drugs and sex to escape the indelible pain. Today I keep a quote from Oprah Winfrey on my desk that reads, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” I no longer use those self-destructive methods of escape to cope with that pain. Instead, I am the co-chair of the New York City chapter of GLSEN-the country’s largest anti-bullying organization. I have been able to turn my wounds into wisdom and teach anti-bullying workshops to teens from all walks of life and from all across the world. And I can report to you that although we face an epidemic of palatial proportions, I have seen firsthand the change in a young person’s eyes when he or she realizes that their thinking and behavior need to change. Working with young adults has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Bullies come in many different faces and yes even in the faces of LGBT youth. This vicious cycle continues on into adulthood and corrodes our community.
So my message here to you tonight is that we, the adults of the LGBT community, have a civic duty to heal our own bullying scars first, so that we can carry this message to the generations coming up behind us who so desperately need our help. We need to support and educate our teachers so they are armed with the tools needed to properly handle bullying in the classroom. One of those tools is GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit. It’s a comprehensive guide on how to be an ally and should be in the hands of every teacher in every school across the country. You can access this kit at glsen.org for only $20.00. Which is a small price to pay for change.
I am proud to be a bullying and hate-crime survivor. But that experience doesn’t do any good if I don’t actively seek out ways to heal those scars. That help can be found in places like our LGBT Community Center, Callen-Lorde and the many other resourceful facilities in our city. Then, and only then, can I truly carry the message to today’s bullied, bullies, parents and teachers through organizations like GLSEN, The Trevor Project and Lady Ga-Ga’s Born This Way Foundation.
We deserve the chance to heal as a community and are responsible to break the cycle of bullying for our children and future generations. This week we saw that things do change! We can change the future and together we can eradicate bullying once and for all. Thank you for listening and again Happy Pride New York!