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Raw DS Article: It Gets Better, Version 2.0

October 11, 2010

Last week I wrote an article about intolerance and ignorance in the region that elicited one of the strongest responses I’ve ever received after it was published. Many of the responses were written by people who thought what I wrote was overly negative, and even went so far as to accuse me of being as intolerant as the people I wrote about. Most of the e-mails, Facebook messages and word-of-mouth responses I received where wholly affirmative of the point I was trying to make. After traveling to and spending a measurable amount of time in 23 countries, 3 Canadian provinces, and 38 US states in addition to meeting and interacting with people from any number of countries beyond that, I stand by my assertion that this region is one of the most intolerant toward outsiders I’ve encountered. This week, I want to continue to explore one particular aspect of the issue, but will be taking the criticism about my negativity in stride, and will make the best attempt to be more positive in making my point.

Growing up in Colorado, I spent much of my upbringing at a flower shop in Cherry Creek where my mom was a former owner and continued to help even after she sold out of the business to give birth to and raise me (and eventually my sister as well).  For those that never had the opportunity, spending time in a flower shop as a four, five, and six year old is one of the most awesome things ever. There was a huge walk in cooler that was often filled with colorful flowers of many sizes and varieties, floral foam that, when wet, could be molded into fun shapes, and a weekly supply of huge flower boxes that, depending on the current trends in 5 year old obsessions, doubled as an awesome airplane, car, or fort. There were several floral designers and delivery drivers to keep my sister and I entertained while my mom was busy elsewhere.  One designer and eventual owner of the flower shop continues to stand out in my memory both for his hilarious antics and the fact that as we grew up, he treated us like family. Whether it was stabbing a cleverly concealed ketchup packet in his hand with a knife or designing the flowers for my Bar Mitzvah, he was well loved by my family. From my own young age, he was the first gay person for whom I consciously knew. Whether it was prank phone calls posing as my great aunt or the giving of Chanukah gifts, his sexuality never played into the fact that, deep down, he was a caring, funny, and inspiring person. I mourned his death several years ago just as much as I did any other person that played a role in my upbringing. Above all else, he was a human that exuded many of the qualities that make our people great, and some that don’t, just like everyone else on the planet.

Gay, bisexual or straight; white, black, or anywhere in between; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or atheist; even Democrat or Republican; what is often lost in the dogmatic and pedantic way of life of many Americans is the fact that at the very center, we are all human beings—creatures that deserve to live a full life free of intolerance, bullying and the threat of physical violence. In the last several months, we’ve seen stories of young people who, bullied into a corner, decided that the only way out of the hurt and the harm being wrought upon them was through suicide. It would be easy to dismiss this problem as being something that occurs elsewhere, as people in Grand Forks are so keen on doing, yet one of the teens, 15 year old Justin Aaberg, lived in Anoka, MN, a place where I can count on both hands (at least) people I know grew up.  In six years here, I’ve witnessed harassment, bullying and cruelty of the same vein that caused the now dozens of teens to search out a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.

Last week I alluded to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project on YouTube. Its central premise is that even though bullying and intolerance in high school, college and real life can be a living hell, life gets better. There are now thousands of videos on YouTube supporting this assertion. Some are hilarious, and others heartbreaking. This week also plays host to National Coming Out Day, on Monday. By the time you read this, the day will have come and gone, but take a moment to think about the equality we all deserve as human beings.

I, Martin Rottler, am a straight ally, and I’m coming out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality because it’s 2010 and you can still be fired from your job in 29 states for being lesbian, gay or bisexual and in 38 states for being transgender.

What are you doing to make the world a better place UND?


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