When I was fifteen, the TV movie An Early Frost came out. Maybe some of you remember it. It was a story about a gay man who contracts AIDS and goes home to his family. It was very controversial at the time. Very. The day after the movie came out, I was sitting in math class and these two guys behind me started talking about it. They were loud and brash and threw around words like, “gross” and “fags” and “disgusting”. They made retching noises and said the gay characters deserved to die of AIDS. This kept escalating until one of them, laughing in his righteousness, declared that all gays should be rounded up, put up against a wall and shot.
And I lost it.
I‘d like to say that I turned around calmly in my chair and leveled these guys with a witty yet poignant speech about gay rights, that I was impassioned but intelligent. That afterwards, the two boys looked ashamed and even a little thoughtful. I’d like to say that’s what happened but it didn’t. Instead, I spun around in my seat, eyes narrowed and crazy, and HISSED at them that everything they were saying was stupid, that they were fucking awful and stupid, that there was nothing wrong with being gay and that if anyone should be put up against a wall and shot in the interest of bettering humanity, it should be fucking stupid disgusting losers like them and how would they like THAT, HUH?
Needless to say, it was not eloquent. I’m pretty sure there was spittle. The only embarrassed looks in the vicinity were from nearby students and they were directed at me, full of the kind of uncomfortable pity reserved for someone who has just had an epileptic seizure in class. The guys themselves, after they got over their surprise, laughed louder and harder than before. No one’s mind was changed, no one recanted, no one said “You know what, you’re right!”. I spent the rest of class shaking with rage, glaring at my notebook and trying not to let my tears of frustration and sadness spill out all over the place. It really sucked.
I don’t regret it. I wish I had said things better. I wish I had kept my emotions in check. I wish I had been smart enough or articulate enough to change someone’s mind. But I don’t wish I had stayed silent. I think, if I had, it would be something that would be eating at me to this day.
We graduate from high school. If we’re lucky, we graduate from college. But we are always in the classroom. And the boys in the back are always there, casually spouting off bigotry and hate, mindlessly parroting what they believe to be popular opinion. They hate who they are told to hate. They tell us that we should hate them, too. They won’t always be foaming at the mouth with it. They will be calm. They will have rationalizations, defenses, REASONS. Abraham had slaves. The Jews caused World War I. Segregation is a regional custom. State rights. It says so in the Bible. Marriage is sacred.
This is a Moment, people. Capital M. This is your chance to prove where you would have stood in the 1840s, in 1933, in 1964. If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done then, look to what you are doing now. This is it. This is your moment of truth.
Don’t miss it.