When people think of homophobia, they usually think of a group of straight men violently attacking gay men. But homophobia doesn't have to be expressed through violence to be real, and it doesn't have to come from a straight man to be felt. Too often when it comes to LGBT youth homophobia and it's equally hateful sibling, effemiphobia, comes directly from one LGBT person to another.
That was exactly the case when Joseph Barden was a freshman at his Richmond, Virginia high school where he bullied a young gay classmate for being, as he put it, too feminine.
As Barden explains in this new video for "I'm From Driftwood," a nonprofit archive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer stories, he was privileged enough to befriend a group of upperlassmen girls. One day, as the group sat at a lunch table, the girls' gay friend, David, walked over to greet them and after he left, Barden trash talked the young man for being gay.
"I said, 'Oh my god! He's just so disgusting!' And my friend Johnetta looked at me and she said, 'What did you say?" And I said, 'He's so disgusting. The way he acts. The way he just prances. It's just uncalled for.' And she looked at me and she said, 'Wow, Joseph. I thought you were better than that.'" Barden recalled.
But instead of getting defensive, Barden explained that he took Johnetta's words to heart and they sparked a lifestyle change in him that not only shifted his mindset about bullying but also forced him to accept the truth about his own sexuality.
Growing up in a small homophobic town, I know very well how life at school can feel like a battlefield among gay kids, because instead of showing solidarity and standing together to fight against homophobia and effemiphobia, too often young LGBT kids harass and fight each other as attempts to deflect attention away from their own insecurities about their sexuality. And I've personally been on both sides of that offense, both trying to defend myself and trying to belittle other gay men to look cool so that other kids wouldn't bully me.
Looking back, I wish that there would have been a stronger sense of community between the LGBT kids at my school, but I hope videos like this can be a learning tool for the LGBT youth coming up behind my generation to stand together, validate and applaud each other, and love each other.
Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK