Earlier we posted about Sean Simonson, a high school student in the Twin Cities metro area who wrote an op-ed piece in his student newspaper. His article was his personal response to the wave of news about bullying and suicides of gay teens. Entitled Life as a Gay Teenager, the article served as his public “coming out” although he was out to friends and family well before then.
At first, the school pulled the article. Some hateful, anonymous comments appeared. Sean’s mother Ann, though generally supportive of her gay son, questioned the wisdom of such a public posture, fearing retribution.
Today’s Star Tribune Newspaper (the leading Minnesota daily) published a followup article, and the news is cause for rejoicing. In this case, it turns out that “Minnesota Nice” resounds loud and clear. Here’s a portion of today’s Strib article:
[I]n the true measure of impact these days … friend requests poured in on Facebook. Sean estimates 80 to 100 complete strangers tried to add him as a friend.
"I think there was like a person from Korea, and someone from like Norway," he said.
What was more stunning to Sean though, was the reaction closer to home.
"I got one handwritten letter left for me in the main office from a teacher. And then I got like three or four emails from teachers basically saying they support me," he said. "It was teachers I wasn’t close to and so that kind of surprised me."
Sean said a school administrator told him it was worth what the school had gone through if just one kid benefited from what he had written.
If the point of Sean’s piece was to get a dialogue going about supporting gay teens, he succeeded not only among his peers, but also among adults. Ann Simonson said she was caught off guard by the reaction in her social circles.
"I even had to take a couple days off just to respond to the all the emails and phone calls I’d received from friends," she said. "It was just ringing off the hook. It was quite amazing. You find out who your friends are, that’s for sure."
In the days that followed, Sean found his anonymous detractors, the online commenters, melted away. The Knight-Errant student newspaper instituted a new comment policy: no anonymous comments and writers must use valid emails.
And he found he had even more friends than he thought he did. In early December, he was elected Grand Knight, the equivalent of the prom king, for Benilde-St. Margaret’s winter formal.
During my teen years in the ’60s, I didn’t know any gays in high school or college. They were invisible. Then came the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 and slowly they started coming out of the closet. Bob Dylan from Hibbing, Minnesota was singing in the University of Minnesota bistros of “Dinkytown” in the early sixties, soon to burst on the scene as the poet laureate/prophet of our generation with songs such as “The Times They Are A’changing”.
Social progress often moves as slow as a glacier, and many friends wish for more speedy changes; yet, judged by historical standards, the advances of gay rights these last forty years is nothing short of amazing. As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, I tip my hat to the Congress and the President for repealing DADT, to heroes such as young Mr. Simonson, and to the inspired leadership within my own Lutheran church for breaking down boundaries.