I live in Baltimore city, in a fairly decent, exceptionally walkable neighborhood.  It’s a good place to live.  The walk to the Johns Hopkins campus where I work takes but a few minutes.  Even closer are two good grocery stores, plus drugstores, nice restaurants, dry cleaners, a Radio Shack, a neighborhood hardware store, and other shopping.  There’s even a decent camera store just a few blocks away…a delight for this longtime camera bug.

Whenever I hear my co-workers complaining about their commute I bring all this up.  Look, I say, why not live here in the city?  The neighborhoods around the campus are very nice.  There’s lots of affordable housing nearby, and you can walk to just about everything you need.  Yes…yes, they say, but the city schools are terrible.

It’s something that as a single, childless man I don’t have to take into account. When you’re raising kids, you realize the importance of good schools and a good community.  But not all that seems to be good actually is.  Just ask the parents of gay kids who found out to their everlasting grief, just how bad the “good” schools run by “good” people really were.

GORDONSVILLE, TN (WSMV) - A Gordonsville boy’s parents say bullying caused their son to take his own life.  Phillip Parker, 14, died this week. His parents said he was constantly bullied for being gay.  More than 100 people gathered in Gordonsville on Saturday night, grieving the loss of Phillip.

“He was fun, he was energetic, he was happy,” said Gena Parker, Phillip’s mother.

We’ve seen this tragedy over and over.  What seemed to outwardly be a nice place to raise a family suddenly turns into one family’s nightmare.  You thought it was a decent place to raise your kids.  But then one of your kids turned out to be gay…

Here’s the problem: prejudice, bigotry and hate love to play dress up.  Family Values.  Family Friendly. But…they’re not.  Not if you are gay, and not if you have a gay kid.

“He kept telling me he had a rock on his chest,” said Ruby Harris, Phillip’s grandmother. “He just wanted to take the rock off where he could breathe.”

Phillip’s family said they reported their concerns over their son’s bullying to Gordonsville High School on multiple occasions, but the bullying by a group of students just got worse.

Read their stories, these parents who have lost a gay kid to the local bullies, and ask yourself how Family Friendly anti-gay prejudice is.  The culture warriors do not spare children. They are people who will gladly rip apart a gay kid’s heart as a matter of righteous devotion.  Parents of all children, but especially parents of gay children, need to realize that the understanding of what good schools, good churches and a decent community are that they grew up on does not apply when it comes to gay kids.  That Family Friendly sloganeering isn’t a welcome sign, it’s the warning on a bottle of poison.

Once you realize your kid is gay—which parents of gay kids usually realize long before their gay kids realize it themselves—take a long, hard look at the community in which you live. Take a long, hard look at the church where you worship. Take a long, hard look at the schools your kid will be forced to attend.  Then decide if staying put is worth your child’s life.

-Dan Savage

This.  Bullying takes its toll on the human spirit, and just as with other forms of child abuse, victims can experience deep feelings of embarrassment and shame.  You can’t expect bullied kids to always come forward and seek help.  But in this day and age, where multimillion dollar political organizations like the FRC and NOM churn out ton after ton of direct mail anti-gay hate propaganda, politicians routinely demonize gay people to win elections, and any and every attempt to address anti-gay bullying in the schools is met with more of the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric about homosexuality that licenses that bullying, surely it can’t be difficult to understand that if your child is gay they are at risk.  You don’t need them to tell you that it’s bad.  Just look for yourself.  It isn’t rocket science.

How gay friendly is your community, your church, the school board, and the school administrators?  Are there policies in place that specifically address anti-gay bullying.  Is there a gay-straight alliance?  Is there age appropriate sex education that includes and teaches respect for same-sex couples?

Maybe you don’t want to get your family involved or taking sides in the culture wars.  Maybe you’re unsure yourself of where you stand on matters of faith and policy.  Fine.  But do you at least know where you stand on the matter of your kid’s health and well being?

Would you send your kid to a school made from bricks of spent nuclear fuel? Would you take them to church that was used weekdays as a germ warfare testing facility? Would you live in a community next to a leaking nerve gas factory? Would you let them play in an abandoned minefield?  No?  Good.  Consider the sickening fact that lots of people, lots of otherwise seemingly decent people, think tormenting gay kids to death is their righteous duty, and they run schools, churches, and local governments. You have to protect your gay kid from those people as you would from any sexual predator.  It’s not only a simple matter of their health, it’s a matter of life and death.  You don’t need your kid to tell you that.

As Savage says, parents of gay kids usually realize their kid is gay well before the kid realizes it themselves.  So when that time comes, take that long hard look.  It isn’t a good school if the gay kids who walk its halls are afraid.  It isn’t a decent community if it can’t find it within itself to treat gay kids decently.