Beyond This Blog: Taking Action

TW: implied murder and violence against women, specifically: Rebecca Wight, the Colonial Parkway victims, Julie Williams & Lollie Winans, Sakia Gunn, and Gwen Araujo.

The school I attend has become much more creatively-inclined in recent years – a number of instructors are foregoing hard-and-fast final exams in place of open-ended final projects. Students are assigned the task of proving they learned something in the given class, but that’s the only guideline we are given; the rest is up to us. This was the case in two of my classes this year, English and history. In both cases I elected to create my final projects around LGBT hate crimes and hate crime victims. I use this blog as my main vehicle to get the word out, but I wanted to show you all one of the many ways I incorporate these people and this message into my daily existence as well.

Like every other junior English class across the US, we focused our attention on two pieces of literature this semester, The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men. For our final, we were to create a multi-genre project that reflected a theme in one or both of those novels. I chose the theme of violence and how we use violence in our society to deal with people and situations that make us uncomfortable or challenge the established ideals of the way things “should” be. On Friday, I stood up in front of the class and presented a project that naturally highlighted the stories of hate crime victims. I talked a bit about the theme. I told the stories of women whose lives society dubbed “inconvenient”. I showed pictures of Rebecca, Becky and Cathy, Julie and Lollie, Sakia and Gwen. I intended to leave no room for anyone in that class to walk away untouched by what they had witnessed. Here are stories. Here are pictures. And then I ended by sharing my story of anti-gay violence. I read in a speech the version of my story that I had put up on the Week of Action Movement blogspot only a week prior. My voice shook the entire time I was reading it – I won’t pretend it didn’t. I am not yet comfortable being open like that with my story, but I was determined to do it. It was the first time any of my classmates were hearing that story. All of them knew I was gay, and several of them had complained vociferously about how much I talk about the various -isms we have not moved past as a society, but not a one of them knew I was a victim of violence. As I was reading my speech, I was struck by the sudden shift in the atmosphere in the room. They sat in stunned silence, a sort of stunned silence where I knew they were internally putting the pieces together about me, and were at the same time suddenly forced to question their beliefs and why they held them. They were stunned, and their expressions said everything. After I finished, the same people who had once begged for me to shut up about the ills of society now begged for me to tell them more. “Will you tell us about Matthew Shepard?” they said. “Will you tell us about the Matthew Shepard Act? Will you tell us about Rebecca Wight? Who is she? What happened to her? Is she the one on the left or right side of the picture?”

My most recent Stories Project interview was with someone who mentioned that she had often wondered if the story was still alive anywhere, if people were still aware of it. I can say with relative certainty that it just became alive in the minds of thirty young people who had never before heard the name. And tomorrow, it’s going to become alive in the minds of at least that many different young people.

At the end of the year, the AP US history instructor throws a decades party and our final project is to create a presentation about an influential person from that decade. We dress up in period clothes, we “speed date” with each other, we throw a party with period music and food, and then we give presentations over the person we chose to spotlight. My class was given the 1980s and names like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Ronald Reagan were quickly claimed for presentations, but a few people including myself wanted to do something a little more unorthodox with the 80s project. All I will say further about this project is that tomorrow, at least the same amount and potentially twice the amount of different youth are going to learn the name Rebecca Wight.

Author: Meg

The Stories Project – Wayne Wilcox’s Story

Wayne Wilcox was a classmate of Rebecca “Becky” Wight’s. Both were members of the graduating class of 1977 at Seoul American High School. All words below are his unless specified otherwise.

TW: death, loss.

I went to high school with Becky in Korea at Seoul American High School, and we dated a few times. We also worked on the school newspaper staff together. What I remember most was a very fun-loving but subtle sense of humor. She made a joke about my hat collection in the school paper (I used to wear a different one almost every day). She wore these very big glasses (it was the 70s), and looked like a really cute owl! When we graduated, she went off to Virginia Tech, and I went to ODU. We might have swapped a letter or two, but I don’t believe I ever saw her again. She was a good friend in school; we had a lot of fun and went out, and then we moved on. I heard about her death in the mountains. I don’t remember how – could have been the newspaper, or the SAHS grapevine – and was very shocked and saddened. I always regretted that we never got together again, but that was life back before email and the internet; sometimes, we just lost contact with people. When you brought up her name, it just reminded me of the sadness I feel that she, along with many of my other friends, are gone, and that I need to live every day to its fullest. I think she would have wanted me to.

Sunday, May 12 (Day Seven) and Monday, May 13 (Day Eight)

TW: murder, death, loss, anti-gay violence specifically: Rebecca Wight.

The Week of Action has finished its second run. I think 2013 was a successful year, albeit an emotional one. I did not end up writing the post for the final day of the Week yesterday, as I ended up on an impromptu Stories Project call with Judy Wight, whose story will be up on the site soon. For the seventh day, the theme was rainbow, which symbolizes hope and promise, and there were fifteen people I felt best fit that color: Jadin Bell, Paige Clay, Guilherme de Souza, John Lloyd Griffin, Billy Lucas, Cameron McWilliams, Puja Mondal, Andritha Morifi, Chanelle Pickett, Jack Reese, Bobby Saha, Gisberta Salce Jr., Tommy Lee Trimble, Kenneth Weishuhn Jr., and Cassandra Zapata. I wish I’d had the energy to write out their tributes – I will say here, as I did on the previous post, that we lost fifteen lives that were beautiful and valuable and irreplaceable.

Today was not an easy day. It never is, not for me – and I know that whatever I experience around this date and this time of year is nothing close to what those who knew Rebecca must experience. This date to me is a long constant reminder that people die due to anti-LGBT violence and I could have been one of them if things had turned out slightly differently. I was upset and in tears for most of the day, and I made sure I removed myself from my house come five, six, six-thirty in the afternoon. I had to go out and distract myself, remove myself from this room which has pictures of her on the Week of Action display and 105 names on the mirror. My continued existence is reminder enough that I could be dead because people have a problem with LGBT people – I don’t need the extra triggers. I don’t like this date and I don’t like this time of year. But now, I feel like the date has passed, and I can move forward again. It’s been another year, it’s been twenty-five years, and I suppose I expected this to weigh on me a little more today, but now, the date is behind us for another year. It’s been twenty-five years. It’s behind me again. I can breathe. I can move forward again. I can remember her life instead of being forced to focus on her death. I can keep going.

I appreciate the efforts of everyone who took part in this year’s event, and I do hope you will tell me what you did for the Week. Words cannot express how much I appreciate all of the wonderful supportive comments I’ve received on my story – you all have convinced me it was the right choice to make. I will conclude the event in saying, rest in peace and power to all 105 individuals who were memorialized this year, and rest in peace and power to Rebecca Wight, the person without whom I would not be alive to be doing this.

Author: Meg

Saturday, May 11 – Day Six

TW: none.

Day six and there isn’t much to report. The Week of Action is winding down, wrapping up its second year. Day six was similar to day five in the way it made me feel – calm now, winding down, becoming tired as the initial anxiety, excitement, and utter sadness has faded from the beginning of the event. I’m still not sure how I’m going to react come Monday. Hopefully I will be able to find a meaningful way to remember Rebecca’s life and a reason not to fall apart because I can be triggered extremely easily while running this event (due to my own experience with anti-gay violence).

Received a response on a Stories Project letter, one of the first new ones I’ve sent in several months, from a sister of Rebecca’s who has indicated she is interested in participating. Interestingly enough, I am not frightened to speak with her in the way I’ve been frightened to speak with some. I’m not frightened about this project any more. I have a year of practice behind me. I was scared to death in 2012. Funny story: last year, I was on my phone when I received a response from someone closely connected to Rebecca Wight. I was so startled to see that name suddenly appear in my inbox that I yelped and threw the phone across the room. I hadn’t even read what their response was; I just saw the name and threw the phone, that’s how high-strung and nervous I was about the Stories Project in 2012. After that, my mantra for the project became, “No one can scare you as much as (name)!”

The theme for today was purple, which stands for spirit, and there were fifteen individuals who I felt best represented the theme: Michelle Abdill, Chanel Larkin, Jamey Rodemeyer, Angie Zapata, Becky Dowski, Jamie Hubley, Duanna Johnson, Eric James Borges, Agnes Torres Hernandez, Bella Evangelista, Nakhia Williams, FannyAnn Eddy, Carl Walker-Hoover, Deoni Jones, and Tiffany Berry. I did not end up finishing their tributes, but I can say for each and every one of them that when the world lost them, we lost fifteen lives that were beautiful and valuable and deserve to be remembered.

Author: Meg

Friday, May 10 – Day Five

TW: death, loss.

Day five of the Week of Action and I don’t have much to say. It definitely feels that the Week is winding down. The atmosphere of the event felt calm and relaxed – I suppose that’s appropriate given that the theme is blue to represent serenity and harmony. It rained a significant amount today, just as it did yesterday. It’s interesting to me to see just how drastically different each day is – Monday I felt so supported and moved by the reaction I received to my story, Tuesday I was inconsolable due to being triggered, Wednesday carried the remnants of Tuesday but reenergized me to work on the Stories Project, Thursday was electric, and Friday has been tranquil and calm. I sent those letters for the Stories Project. I made it one more day than I made it last year – in 2012, the tributes ended on day four. I finished Rebecca’s and I was done. Other than that, there is not much to report today.

The theme was blue, which symbolizes serenity and harmony, and fifteen people are memorialized specifically today. In no particular order, they are: Roxanne Ellis, Charlie Howard, August Provost, Brandon Teena, Coko Williams, Josh Pacheco, Nireah Johnson, Brandon Elizares, Stephanie Thomas, Barry Winchell, Mollie Olgin, Dano Fetty, Jody Dobrowski, Danny Overstreet, and Zoliswa Nkonyana.

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Two Notices

TW: none.

The Day Five post will also be a day late, delayed until tomorrow at which time I will upload it and the Day Six post. No need for concern – though this is the second time such a thing has happened this week, this time, it isn’t a matter of the event becoming too much to handle; I elected to see a late showing of The Great Gatsby and ran out of hours in the day.

Also, the site will be down on Monday, May 13 in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the death of the person around whom this event is modeled. Final posts and reflection will be up on Tuesday, May 14. I will neither be online nor responding to messages on the 13th, as I intend to use that day as a time for personal reflection.

Author: Meg

Thursday, May 9 – Day Four

TW: death, loss.

Today is the fourth day of the Week of Action, and I want to take note of the electricity in the air today. Today’s theme was green, which stands for nature, and it was both Rebecca Wight’s and Julie Williams’s color day. The past couple of days have been up and down, with soaring heights and crashing lows (triggers aren’t fun), and today was just…incredible. I stepped outside after class today and immediately stepped into the beauty of spring. The weather was beautiful – the sky was a dark navy grey with imminent rain, and the air was awash in the scent and feel of rain. It didn’t rain, not at first, and later alternated between sprinkling and pouring. I felt energized the moment I stepped outside. Electricity buzzing all over me, coursing through my blood. I felt alive, on top of the world. I was reaffirmed in what I do and why. And to think this occurred today, given the theme and whose theme it is. Feeling energized was definitely what I needed this week. Perhaps it was better that the most difficult day occurred early – it allowed me to pull it together and return replenished to finish the Week. I allowed myself a day to cry and grieve for the lives we have lost – now I am ready to move forward and continue to work toward a better future.

There were fifteen individuals memorialized today who I thought best suited the theme of nature. In no particular order, they are: Rebecca Wight, Julie Williams, Lollie Winans, Fred Mangione, Vanderson Viegas Silva, Winfield Mowder, Talana Kreeger, Noxolo Nogwaza, Dominic Crouch, Lawrence Correa Biancao, Gary Matson, Emonie Spaulding, Allen Schindler Jr., Eudy Simelane, and Thapelo Makutle.

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