I believe in the tolerance of others, even when their actions rock my faith in humanity.
I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school. It was a year of eagerly searching through mounds of snail mail in order to find the perfect college, the year I learned to drive, the year I became more active in school activities in order to brighten my college applications the following year. I was a member of Spectrum, which is the school’s literary magazine, the Spanish club, and my very favorite, the Civil Rights Team.
As a member of the Civil Rights Team, my mission was to make sure the school and community environment was safe for everybody, no matter their religious creed, race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. We made posters prompting students and teachers alike to show some respect for each other. We created a huge calendar on the wall of the foyer, taking note of every possible consequential day we could name. Ramadan, Hanukkah, Maghi, Nirvana Day, Easter, Black History Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many more events. My unofficial motto was, “I can’t make them care, but I can make them aware.”
Living in Maine, a state that the census records as having around a 98% white population, there was never much racial prejudice that needed to be addressed in my school. I therefore made it a priority to focus on religious and sexual orientation topics. In an attempt to sound as far from preachy as possible, we tried to show people that we fully supported their rights to personal opinions as long as they didn’t harm somebody else.
The biggest campaign was about using words. Jabs at homosexuals were ever present in hallways, buses, and even some of my classrooms. Many teachers ignored the hurtful comments because they were just too prevalent. I didn’t. I hated that my friend Kyle, a gay adolescent, heard “fag” or “that’s gay” innumerable times throughout his day.
Even after the Civil Rights team did a service to the school in the auditorium about words hurting people, even if that wasn’t the intent, some people still managed to continue being ignorant about their actions, or worse – they just didn’t care.
Despite everything, it was still a shock to me when, one day, as Kyle and I were walking into the gym for our study hall, a few boys by the entrance started cursing at him and saying that he was a fag. Only for the sake of looking somehow more masculine in each others’ eyes by berating one of my best friends. This truly unprovoked attack had me in tears. Amazingly, though he was emotional hurt, he did not let their jeers affect him. Through Kyle, I was able to learn that while people may not tolerate his life, it was still important to maintain a tolerance of others’ lives. There may be a reason for somebody’s actions, even when I disagree with him or her. I believe in tolerance.
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