Matt and Tim

by Small Town Guy

Chapter 11

It was Saturday night as the cars pulled into the restaurant parking lot. The parents were surprised the boys suggested a local buffet. There was a flat rate charged for all you can eat. It was indeed less expensive than many of the hamburger and pizza chains. There was an assortment of chicken, ham, roast beef, varieties of potatoes and vegetables.

Matt sat with Angel at a series of tables placed end to end. Tim and Michelle sat across from them. Clara sat with Ayumi as was preplanned and Cynthia sat across from them. Ken managed to steer Mr. Meadows to the more distant end from the others. He then returned for Clara's tray to take it to her.

"...Here you go Mom! Dig in! And I'll tell you the same thing you always told me. No dessert until that plate is clean!"

Matt speared several green beans from his six bean salad. He was about to nibble at them when he held them out across the table toward Tim.

"Try some of these! They're great."

Tim crossed the index fingers of both hands, and pushed them toward the fork as though to ward off an evil.

"...Bahhh!....Get those things away from me!"

The girls laughed as they all began to eat.

Ayumi reached her arm behind Clara as she drew Cynthia's attention. She pointed down at her as a cautious reminder.

"...Sooo have you decided to attend the meeting next week?" Ayumi asked.

Cynthia gave a cautious glance toward her husband.

"...Well, apparently we have to......We got a letter from Principal Emerson. If you read it carefully enough, it sounds as though we're required to be there."

"Oh!......So did we!......I guess Mr. Emerson wants more parents there this year. It's some sort of outreach program. The students can only do so much. They want to point out this is strictly a group for tolerance and that they aren't promoting anything more. They want to get the parents themselves talking. Lots of parents don't......understand lots of what this is about. There is no right or wrong here. There are just soooo many people out there that don't know the first thing about the GSA. I did an unofficial pole at the hospital and clinic. I couldn't believe the number of parents who are patients of mine who've never even heard of it, much less know what it was about. And those who do?......Well, they don't understand it's purpose. Gee! Some of them think it's some kind of a dating club for......people.

"I can't mention....names......but a friend of mine was there when Matt gave his....well, rather emotional presentation. She said everyone was quite impressed with him. He's such a loving boy. He hurts for everyone who's down. He used a photo of some young boy. One who committed suicide. And he compared the dry statistics on a sheet of paper to the photo. He made the numbers more meaningful. I just can't wait for his next presentation next week."

"Yes......I've seen his report and those awful....awful pictures! I can't wait to get there. Well, I was going regardless of the principal's letter. It's just that Richard wants nothing to do with it. Maybe now I can get him to talk with some of the other parents. Oh! He's just soooo narrow-minded! I still haven't said anything to him. I just don't know how this is going to work out..."

She sighed as she forked some salad into her mouth. Ayumi could see by her expression she wanted to say much more.

"...I just had to call you the other day," Ayumi began, "I was so worried about that. It's just something sooo personal. I thought I'd leave it up to Matt...

"...I've......I've seen lots of violence in my career....Well, the results of it! It's so unfortunate. There's no need for it....and it sure doesn't solve anything...

"...So......Did you read the stories I sent you?"

Cynthia nodded with a slight shy smile...

"...I never in my wildest dreams, thought I'd read something like that. And your right, the first one was absolutely hilarious!......Well, you do need an open mind to read it..."

She gazed down at the center of the table at nothing in particular.

"...The boys......Yes, they were cute. I think we all can identify with that awkward stage we went through. My problem was just standing up and walking!"

Ayumi let out a laugh.

"...Oh yeah," Cynthia continued, "I was a bit shy, but really had no problem talking to boys. It's just I was so nervous about tripping with my tray in the cafeteria, or stumbling down the stairs. I was more worried about someone seeing me than getting hurt!"

At the other end of the table, Ken and Richard made small talk.

"...So, come on, Ken......You can't be all that interested in my work as a mechanic! You're out there with all those brainy engineers, designing things. It's got to be really interesting."

"...Oh yeah!......It sure is, but mechanical things have always interested me. As a little kid, I'd take things apart just to find out....what makes it go! My problem was putting everything back together again! And even when I did, I always seemed to have parts left over!"

"...Like your electric train?"

"Oh yeah!......And Dad's lawnmower! Oh, I was a little monster when it came to taking things apart. I'd break a gasket, lose a tiny needle valve......but I learned. Little by little I got to where I could at least put things back together. Then I moved on to actually repairing things!"

Mr. Meadows had explained many of the machines he'd repaired. He'd seemed interested in it, yet his facial expression seemed to give Ken the impression his mind was far removed from the subject.

"...So what's on your mind tonight?" he finally asked.

"...Umm....That damn school! We got a letter in the mail. They want us at that next GSA meeting."

"Oh yeah?!......We got one too!"

It had indeed been Ken who'd talked with Mr. Emerson. He'd mentioned parents he'd been concerned with. He mentioned the incident which brought out Tim and Matt. He was still concerned over Scooter and Toby. Indeed, their parents had received letters as well.

"...Well, I didn't like it!......It seemed to have this sort of....well vague threat to it. Like we're going to have to go before the school board or something."

"Well, I never read it. Ayumi did. I'm just going along with it..."

"...I just don't understand all this stuff!......When I went to school, they taught us the three 'R's'. We didn't have all these organizations. We didn't learn about sex and acceptance and all this crap they're so concerned with now! And I think they should just get back to teaching the basics again."

"...Well, times are changing. Ayumi and I vowed we'd do our best to keep up with it. Oh yeah, it gets hard at times. But we're all for tolerance. We want safe schools. No bullying. No shootouts! No suicides!"

"...Well, I think lots of these little pansy-asses ask for it! And I blame the parents for that! These kids are just too coddled today!...

"Hell!......One of my co-workers found out his kid was gay. I told him he'd better just get tough with him or it's just going to get out of control!......The school has to bring in all the counselors and psychologists and baby them some more! This stuff is just ludicrous! I really think us parents should stage one of our own protests! You didn't hear about all this shit in our day! We learned what we needed to know and went out to become productive citizens."

Ken nodded his head as though in agreement.

"...Well, I believe people are much the same. You know what it is today? Technology! We're much more advanced in technology today. Don't forget, people once believed the world was flat. People believed the world, the earth, was the center of the cosmos! Everything revolved around the earth! The first magnetic compasses were considered evil. It was witchcraft! Anything scientific, anything people didn't understand became evil. It scared people. When homes were wired for electric lights, lots of people vowed not to ever have it. They thought gas was much safer.

"...Let me tell you......kids today are under an awful lot of pressure. How'd you like to learn something in school, only to find the next year it's all obsolete? You had to study it all over again. Lots of these kids can't cope with that. They give up! They start bullying. They try to make themselves look important.... tough! We didn't have to worry about that in our day. These kids....well they're scared! So they go out witch hunting! Anything that's different, anything they don't understand is a target.

"...Ayumi had a friend of her's attend that last big meeting for adults. She's still raving about your boy's presentation! The hell with that letter from the school! I want to go there. I want to hear what little Matty has to say. There's lots of pressure out there today. We've got to listen to our kids...

"Now all this stuff about zero tolerance?......I really don't know where I stand on that. There was this little eleven-year-old boy who was constantly being bullied and beat up. His parents complained to the school. They went to the police. Nothing was done about it. One day he got angry with those kids and said he'd like to have a gun to shoot them! What happened then?......They arrest him under zero tolerance! What is this shit?!

"I was on the Net a couple days ago and I just can't believe what people out there think if these GSA's and PFLAG's and all the rest of them. They don't understand the first thing about them. They exist just so some of these kids have a safe place to go. A place where they can socialize with the other students. A place where they're accepted by everyone! I think it's wonderful! I think the kids, the students, have it more together than their adult counterparts."

Ken glanced down the table with a smile as he watched the boys being silly with the girls. They joked and laughed.

"...Ayumi and I are very proud of Tim and Matt. Oh yeah. They compete something awful on those video games! They get mean with each other. But it doesn't take up their entire free time. They're always talking, discussing things. It's so wonderful to watch them going through life and experiencing things..... questioning things. They're......well their very mature for their age, that's for sure!...

"One night they were down in the family room....blowing each other up on video games. After a bit, I noticed it got awful quiet......You know what they say about quiet kids, huh? I went down there to see what was going on."

He smiled and shook his head at the memory.

"They were on the couch reading science books! I'm tellin' you they were going through them like they were some kind of novel! Ayumi and I don't push the boys with science, but we sure encourage them. That's the future! I don't even discourage Tim from reading science fiction! Yesterday's science fiction is today's science fact! Computers, cell phones....the Internet!......Where is it all going to end? Will it end?...

"...Yup! I want to get to that next meeting and see little Matty in action!"

It was here that Matt and Tim noticed the girls seemed to acknowledge each other more than usual. They'd often reach out and touch an arm or the back of a hand. They seemed happy and indeed were enjoying themselves. The boys returned with second helpings.

"I don't know how you two stay so skinny!" Angel put in, "I get sooo jealous!"

"...Well, you know us," Tim put in, "We're like a negative size four! And we can just eat whatever we want and just never gain an ounce!"

"Oh I hate you!" Angel yelled with a smile as she tossed an olive at him.

Matt had took another generous helping of six bean salad. He forked it into his mouth, wiping salad oil from his chin with a napkin.

"Oh gee!" Tim shot out, "I think you're doin' that just to gross me out!"

"No I ain't! This is good! Try some! Nice crispy beans 'n' onions drenched in oil and vinegar."

"Oh! Take it away!......Matty....I'll puke!....I really will!"

Angel pulled Matt's arm back.

"That's enough!......Tim pukes and I'll be joining him!....Ick!"

"So, Matty," Michelle put in, "I wanna see this great report of yours,"

"Oh! Right here, Shell!"

Matt reached for the envelope and tossed it over to her.

"I got the photos too, but....umm....Tim's dad's kinda showing 'em to my dad right now.

"Tim's got a commercial printer. We still haven't decided on what to make big prints of."

"A commercial printer?!" Michelle gasped, looking at him, "That must run you a fortune in ink cartridges alone!"

"...Nah! It was my dad's. It's already obsolete. You can't get ink for it anymore! I just want to use up what I've got and junk the printer. I really don't have the room for it!"

"Well....umm," Matt hesitated, "The pictures are kinda gory....beatings, attempted suicides....that kind of thing. I'm still thinking about not using 'em..."

"Why not?!" Angel shot out, "People gotta see this shit! Parents have got to see it! They gotta stop and think that could be their kid!..."

She turned to Michelle and Tim.

"I think we should show them to whoever we get to speak. Who's going to be there?!"

Michelle and Tim shrugged.

"Matt?..."

"Oh! Jimmy got a psychologist from some nearby community college. And he got some local minister too! I guess someone in his congregation had some kind of trouble with a gay kid. I think he really got beat up by a couple of toughs......Well, this wasn't in his church at the time. These people moved here for the safety of their kid! They went to the school, the police ....nobody would do anything! They even had pictures of where it all happened for proof. They took pictures of him in the hospital too! Nobody wanted to do anything!"

Angel tossed her paper napkin down on her empty plate.

"That's disgusting! I'll bet if it was the principal's kid, or the police chief's kid, something would have been done!"

"...Ohhh yeah!....You can be sure of that...

"Umm....we kinda make fun of our small town and our small school, but I think we've got it better than kids in lots bigger schools! Principal Emerson doesn't tolerate violence. I've never seen him go off, but kids say he really gets pissed! He knows like everyone in town! Shit! Him and the police chief grew up together! They were friends all through school!...

"I keep telling you......Yes! We still have some toughs out there. How many? Ten? Fifteen?......It's the parents we gotta reach! Poor little Scooter 'n' Toby! It's not fair! We were really scared for Scoot!......Holy shit! If that was me 'n' Timmy, I'd flip out!

"Shell! What if your father kept you from some boy who was doin' drugs and always in trouble......You wouldn't like it, but you'd understand why, right?...

"Ang?......What if your parents wouldn't let you be with some boy who's already got two girls pregnant? You might even be pissed at 'em! But would you jump off a bridge over it?

"Remember what we were talking about after one of our meetings one night? That sex thing. I think you brought that up Ang!......People think of gays and right away their minds go to the porn!......Why don't they think like that when it's a straight couple? They don't think of all those filthy sites and vids of the hets doing everything and anything! Why is that? Yeah. There's gay porn out there. So's the straight shit! I had an awful time one night researching some sex thing. I couldn't find a factual site on the Net! Every search lead to porn!......Err I mean adult entertainment!"

The others laughed.

"That's for sure," Michelle put in quickly, "And they sure don't want us having access to their entertainment do they?!"

"No they don't! And the gay sites are worse! Because their going to make the kids gay just by watching it, right?"

"Oh shit!" Angel shot out, "It's like were still living in the dark ages! I can't believe some of the crap I come up with about what parents think. If you can call it thinking!"

"Well, hopefully, a psychologist will open some minds. And the minister might be able to help. Would God make someone gay just so he can condemn them?......Isn't that like me bustin' my ass building a science project just to set it on fire?! It doesn't make any sense!"

Matt and Tim entered the cafeteria directly after their last class. It was here that Principal Emerson suggested the meeting be held. Although the auditorium was available, he thought it less formal. Also the cafeteria allowed for coffee and snacks after the meeting. He hoped to delay parents leaving too quickly. He wanted to get them talking among themselves.

The picnic tables had been removed from the center of the room to allow for the speakers. A podium was placed before one wall in the event the speakers required notes or access to other information they'd brought along. Behind it was the black slate chalkboard. Members walked around doing various small duties.

Matt and Tim were busy posting the latest news items on the bulletin board which normally served as the daily menu. Alex and Bob each rolled in portable bulletin boards.

"So where do these go?"

"Awh! Just leave 'em right here. I'm going to post these photos on there. I'm going to turn them to the wall. I don't want anyone seeing them until I'm ready."

He began using push pins to attach the photos.

"Oh my God, Matt!" Alex shouted, "I'm gonna puke!......You can't hang those in here!"

"Well, I'm sure gonna ask Principal Emerson what he thinks. So far everyone I've talked to says I should show 'em!"

"Yeah, but....slit wrists?....rope burns on necks?....bloody bandages?.... People are gonna pass out when they see this shit!"

"I hope the fuck they do!......I hope five or six of 'em pass out!"

"Oh my!" they heard a voice behind them.

"Oh!....Excuse me Mr. Emerson!......I'm sorry!......Umm....too gory?"

He paced before the board twice, looking closely at the photos.

"Oh dear!....Oh my!"

"...Okay....I get the message....I'll take them down..."

"No!....No! Leave them right there, Matthew!"

He studied them for a moment longer, his fingers on his chin. He turned to Matt.

"...Shock effect?..."

"...Yeah! Exactly!..."

Mr. Emerson thought for a moment and turned to them all.

"Oh! Boys......I have a delivery truck coming any moment......From the local donut shop. If you'll kindly give the man a hand placing the trays on the serving line, I'd appreciate it."

He walked over to the menu bulletin board and scanned the news items. He also saw several collages of snapshot sized prints. They consisted of the club's members. Matt had taken them with his new camera. Students swept the room, hung posters, painted on the new mural, ate snacks and generally acted silly. One student wore leg braces and used crutches. Another was a tiny girl in a wheelchair. He'd made it a point to make each one appear happy and friendly. They were all sexually neutral. He knew that was important. Above the collages was the heading, "WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE!"

"...Excellent...," they heard Mr. Emerson whisper.

He disappeared into the kitchen, obviously preparing the coffee maker. Several students began drawing plastic cups from cabinets.

Two students Rick and Greg entered. Both were seniors this year. Rick was thin with light brown hair. His thin arms seemed to hang long in proportion to his torso. Greg was heavyset. Although not muscular, his bulk assured him a place on the football team. His black hair was short. His shrunken t-shirt hugged tightly to his chest.

"...Matty!....Tim!" Rick called out.

Matt turned from the bulletin board.

"Hey guys!......I sure hope this turns out tonight. Think anyone will show?"

"Hey!" Rick continued, "Is it true you two are out now?"

"...Umm....Yeah......It was kinda by accident but we figured what the heck! Why hide it?"

"Wow!....Hey Greg!....Check out the latest Queer Dears!"

It was here Mr. Emerson looked from the serving window of the kitchen.

"Oop's!" Rick gasped.

He ran forward and grasped Matt around his chest from behind. He spun him around and set him back down.

"...We joke here!" he said to Mr. Emerson, "...That was a joke!"

Matt held a finger up.

"He's right......We joke!...

"Rick and Greg......They're great allies, Mr. Emerson. We call 'em gophers. I really think that's nasty!......Rick and Greg are the glue that holds us all together. Great sense of humor! They can find something funny in anything."

It was here that a thirty-five-year old man stepped in. He wore belt-less jeans, a black shirt and white sneakers. His black hair was only slightly gray along the sideburns. Although casual in dress, he seemed to have a profession air about him. He carried only a simple spiral bound notebook.

"...Umm....Is this where the GSA meeting is going to be held tonight?"

It took several seconds for the students to react. They stopped their various duties of setting up and looked at him.

"You're in the right place," Mr. Emerson spoke out, "but waayyy too early, Doctor Franklin!"

Instantly the students became disarmed. "Doctor?" they all thought.

He glanced at his watch.

"...Four o'clock......And you say the meeting's at seven?"

"Yes. You're more than a bit early. I take it you're here early for a reason."

"Oh yeah!....Oh yeah!......I want to talk with some of the students here. I want to look around. I want to get the feel of things!"

He tossed his notebook on a nearby table. He was about to pass the portable bulletin board when he suddenly stopped.

"...Wow!......Terrible!......Indeed!..."

He walked about the room studying its layout. He glanced at several students. He stood before the menu bulletin board for a minute. His actions were quick and sharp. They hadn't reflected a nervous energy as much as an intense perception. It already appeared he was processing psychological information from the simple layout of the room.

"...Yes!....I like it....I like it!......The cafeteria! An excellent choice Mr. Emerson! Casual, yet much more intimate than the aud."

Jim entered here with his usual stack of textbooks and binders.

"...Ahhh....We need some volunteers!" he said, setting his books down, "We can't very well have people sitting at picnic tables. We're getting folding chairs out of the study hall. Maintenance has a cart here..."

Several boys quickly went for the door. Dr. Franklin quickly followed.

"...Oh! Allow me to help!"

"Nonsense doctor!" Mr. Emerson put in quickly, "I've already brewed a small pot of coffee here!......We'll start the larger one a bit before the meeting ends."

"...Oh, later!....In a moment....Let me help where I can. We'll umm....chat along the way."

He reached out and put his arms on the boy's shoulders. Again, it was a friendly, disarming gesture. He nearly pulled them along.

"...Onward!....To the study hall!..."

They returned fifteen minutes later. As Doctor Franklin helped set up the chairs, Mr. Emerson watched. Although he couldn't hear them speaking, it was obvious the boys were nearly following him. They continued to talk and gesture. Others who overheard them seemed to join in. Soon, several students seemed to be jockeying for a position close to him in order to speak. Doctor Franklin frequently nodded his head and gave positive gestures of agreement. The students already appeared completely at ease with him. Mr. Emerson now understood this must have all been part of his methods.

After a second cart of chairs had been setup, Dr. Franklin made his way to the kitchen. He entered and was handed a mug of coffee by Mr. Emerson.

"...Excellent students, Mr. Emerson!......Very mature. Very intelligent."

He leaned up against a stainless steel counter and appeared to go into deep thought, if for only several seconds.

"...Have you ever noticed how you can tell how intelligent a person is, simply by listening to the type of questions they ask?..."

"Oh! Many times! I know exactly what you're saying."

"Great students!......I'm really hoping over the next twenty years or so.... Another generation....We'll have entire schools such as this!..."

He glanced off into the distance for a moment and returned his attention to Mr. Emerson.

"...You've done great things here. I've heard about it!...

"...Umm......Those kids out there are right, you know......It's the parents we've got to get into here now."

"...Well Dr. Franklin......It's not just the gay community you know......Some kids are deemed too fat....too skinny....too....studious! Others are simply shy, quiet. Yet others a bit too....well, radical. You've got to fit into the ummm.... hierarchy! And that doesn't exactly mean the top rung. It's much more complicated today. I don't fully understand it myself...

"It's just that, well violence is just that....violence. There are many means today of bullying. It's not what it was when I was a student. It takes on a much more subtle appearance. Oh yes! I agree even the girls today are getting more violent. Yet, there are other forms of bullying today....exclusion....isolation.... nasty notes slipped into lockers......And the Internet! What's it called today?.... Cyberbullying? I've just recently began studying that.

"How do you stop that?......It's not as though some student got punched or thrown into lockers. No......It's not just the gay community. You only have to be perceived as different."

Rick entered somewhat hesitantly.

"...Umm....Dr. Franklin?......Will you require a bulletin board or chalkboard?..."

"Rick!....Well, I don't think I'll require either....but the chalkboard will be a fine standby."

Greg poked his head into the doorway.

"We'll be setting up the podium in front of the chalkboard just in case..."

"Oh Greg!......I was considering your question from before..."

He walked toward the boys as they made their way out the door.

Mr. Emerson watched him take a seat on one of the picnic tables which had been pushed aside. He placed his feet on the bench. Instantly the students began to gather around him. It was obvious they all wanted to hear and be heard. Mr. Emerson didn't exactly understand his methods, but knew he had a way of disarming the students and making them feel comfortable.

It was a few minutes before seven. Half the cafeteria was filled with students and parents. Matt and Tim sat toward the front and off to the left. Both kept looking over their shoulders.

"Oh shit......Oh shit," Matt whispered, "Look at this place. It's packed! I really don't think I can do this..."

"Calm down, Matty," Tim put in, "I thought the same thing when I started tutoring a whole class! It gets easier every time. You've been up there giving reports every week."

"Yeah, but to the members, not half the fuckin' town! I'm gonna trip. I'm gonna knock the podium over! Something's going to go wrong!"

"Oh, oh......Mr. Shelby's coming in! He's sitting with your father......And Toby's father is here too!"

"My dad's here?!"

"Your mom too! And my mom and dad!"

"Oh! Keep it up, you dork! Like I'm not nervous enough! They never said anything to me about being here tonight!"

"Just do like you did last time. Start out with all those facts 'n' figures. When I see you place your notes on the table, I'll go up there and help you turn those bulletin boards around. I hope Mr. Shelby takes a good look and really shits his pants!"

Mr. Heath walked to the front of the room.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen..."

He paused for a moment as the room quieted.

"...I'm Mr. Heath and I'm proud to say I'm the GSA sponsor this year...... And I'm so happy to see you all here tonight..."

He paused as he held his hand out toward the students, presenting them.

"Some of these students here may be your children......If not....they're here for your children!"

He took several paces back and forth.

"...I can't emphasize it enough that this club isn't here to promote any kind of lifestyle. It's not here to influence anyone's religious beliefs, ethics, moral outlook on life......It's here for tolerance! We say this again and again, but the message just isn't getting out there.

"These young people you see here....unless your related to them, you probably don't know who they are. That's probably due to the fact they aren't holding up filling stations. They have never been in any trouble! They don't drink. They don't use drugs. You won't read of any of these kids on the police blotter. They unknown!......They help their fellow students. They assist with the handicapped. They do voluntary work. They're saving you taxpayers thousands of dollars a year with the assistance they give other students. They're unknown! Why?......Because there's nothing negative about them to get them the attention!

"As I came in here tonight, I glanced at that bulletin board back there. I don't know if you noticed yet, but their are some interesting news items on it. I personally like the photos one of the students took. Seems like just an average day in the club......Cleaning, organizing, putting up posters....news items, painting our new mural. The kids are having a snack in one photo...Some are roughhousing a bit....being silly! Yeah! I'll say it!....Being silly! Having fun!......People.... This is what we're about! Socializing! Including everyone! Being tolerant!...

"Socializing in school is very important! Being a part of a group is important. I'd like you all to look at those photos after our meeting tonight. They're right under the heading, 'We're all friends here!'......I found that rather touching...

"All I'd like to add to that is......After our meeting tonight....please stay for coffee and donuts! Talk to each other. You'll find you're not alone!..."

He nodded toward Jim. Jim walked up before the chalkboard.

"Hello......I'm simply Jim! I'm the president of our club here......As Mr. Heath, I welcome you here tonight and thank you for your interest. I wasn't expecting such a fine turnout. We meet every Thursday and everyone's welcome. We'd like to see more of you..."

It was here several students began filing in as they appeared to be arguing about something.

"...Awh!....Go stick it you Spic! Why don't you go back to Mexico?!"

"Yeah!....Listen to the Chink!....You here for cheap coolie labor?!"

"Nah!....That's what we've got the coons for!"

"What did you call me, you honky?......That's what we've got the wetbacks for!"

They filed to the front of the room and sat in a row of empty chairs. They threw their arms over each others shoulders with smiles. The boy on the end waved with his free hand.

"We're all friends here!"

Although most understood it had been a simple skit, some adults appeared worried.

Jim turned toward the parents.

"Okay, so we don't have some of the best actors! But do you see where we're headed with this? Can you imagine if this was a routine day in this school? How many of you parents would tolerate this kind of behavior?"

It was here two more boys entered.

"...Get away from me you fag!"

"All I was doin' was walkin' down the hall!"

"Oh! We're gonna get you after school! You're gonna get a royal ass-kickin', queer!"

They too sat beside each other tossing their arms over each others shoulders.

"Just kidding! We're friends too!"

Jim stood quietly for a moment with his hands in his pockets, looking out over the parents.

"Okay......Now how many of you parents would tolerate this?!"

He paced several times. Many of the adults had serious, thoughtful expressions.

"I'm sure everyone of you have heard the sudden spate of teen suicides ....correct? You can't watch television or pick up a newspaper without seeing something about this nearly every month!...

"How many of you have heard of Alexander the Great?....Quite a few, I'm sure. And how about Michelangelo?......And then there's Leonardo da Vinci. Yes! Indeed! One of my heroes! Architect, civil engineer, military engineer, painter, anatomist, artist, botanist, inventor, musician, writer, sculptor! Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist long before there was really a science. I'd classify him as a genius!...

"Do you know what these men had in common?......They are strongly believed to have been homosexuals. I don't care!......They were great men...

"Have any of you heard of Alan Turing?......Don't feel bad if you haven't. Few people have heard of him. He was a mathematical genius! He dealt with quantum mechanics, probability, logic. He led the world in computers and software design. He worked at Bletchley Park during the second world war......Now I'm sure you've heard of that place. It was a secure area where we decrypted German Enigma cipher machine codes. It was an extremely complex code with literally millions upon millions of combinations. He saved tens of thousands if not more lives in the war. I personally believe he shortened the war by two or three years. He designed the Bombe....A huge, power hungry, electro-mechanical computer....along with the Colossus. They were noisy! Expensive to run and repair. And by today's standards extremely slow!..."

He paced a bit more, looking out at the parents.

"...He's another one of my heroes!...

"What happened to Mr. Turing?......He was arrested in 1952! Not for being a spy! Not for being a criminal! Not for being unpatriotic!......For being a homosexual!...

"He still had lots of unfinished work in biology and physics. He let it go! He lost his security clearance. He was laughed at, pushed around, sneered at......He was bullied by adults! He was harassed to the point he took his life in 1954 by cyanide! And all for something he never chose to be! But don't take my word for it. Look it up!

"Well, we have a couple speakers here with us tonight....Doctor Franklin and Reverend Winters. And I can't express to you how happy we are you're here tonight. We need people such as yourselves. We're just kids! And we obviously don't know anything about this."

He became a bit more sarcastic.

"We shouldn't want tolerance and acceptance in our school. I guess we should push students into lockers, trip them on the stairs, throw food at them here in the cafeteria, exclude them from everything! And we should hate! We should beat up on these little boys and girls because they're....different! We should bully them into suicide! Maybe we haven't gone far enough! Maybe we should bully the handicapped kids....The kids on crutches or in wheelchairs! And the gingers! And the fat kids! And the geeks and nerds and emos! Maybe that's what our little town needs! Maybe we need another suicide happening right here! Maybe we need this town in the national news. I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't want my hometown put on the map for something like that!..."

He nodded toward Dr. Franklin as he began walking for his seat.

"...Doctor Franklin..."

He took his position at the front of the room. He hooked his thumbs into the waistline of his belt-less jeans and pushed his fingertips into his pockets. Mr. Emerson already saw the expressions on many of the parent's faces. He was certain this was another disarming tactic.

He nodded toward Jim.

"...That was fantastic!......I'm quite impressed!...

"And by the way...... Leonardo da Vinci is one of my heroes too! He was waayyy ahead of his time..."

He paced before the chalkboard several times, in deep thought.

"...Many uninformed people approach me with this idea that homosexuality is some sort of mental disorder. I hate to admit, for many years it was considered just that. That's all changed today! We have advanced science today, better psychology, newer methods! And.... well, we don't know the causes! Many people think it's environment. Some people think is nature. Some people think it can be acquired or learned in some way......Some people think it's contagious!...... Well, frankly we don't know! What's my personal idea?......Simple body chemistry! It's no different than eye color or hair color! Or how tall you become!

"We know what it isn't! And it's not acquired or learned nor can you catch it! As to exactly a cause......there just isn't enough evidence available to make an exact scientific answer.

"What we do know is that where gay individuals or even couples are accepted and not discriminated against, they're no different in development than heterosexuals. We all need that! Support, especially in a teen's life is very important. Having friends who are important to them and accept them does wonders! This is what Mr. Heath was saying at the start here. This club here is for support. It doesn't advocate anything more than acceptance. Trust me....If your child is an ally here and he or she is not gay......They never will be! They won't be influenced! They won't catch some bacteria in the air. They won't learn to be gay!"

He pointed toward the bulletin board at the rear of the room.

"I saw the photo collage back there too. And as Mr. Heath said......It is very touching. In fact, it reminded me of my high school years. Yes! A couple of my friends were gay. They just didn't have the resources we've got today. They had to keep quiet about it. Yet, we had fun! We joked and pranked each other. Of those who knew, everyone accepted them. They're productive citizens today. As a matter of fact......we never did outgrow our pranking each other. We still do it today!

"I don't understand it! You ask parents for tolerance and they think you want promotion! They're entirely different things. Let them have gay friends. Let them all socialize together. Give them an atmosphere where they can all be themselves without snide comments or judgments. Allow them to be a part of the whole. Allow them to learn from each other.

"Please people......After our meeting tonight, go up there and look at those photos if you haven't yet done so. Look at their smiles. Look at their cheerful attitudes. You can see the lighthearted atmosphere through the whole room! They've already accepted each other. Now they just want to reach out to others. They want harmony not strife!...

"My boy is only ten years old. I have no idea which direction he'll go yet. And I haven't really seen any indication. He's still blowing up enemy spaceships! But I can assure you I'm happy to know he'll be here in another three years......I won't care if he's gay! I want to know he's safe! I want to know he's accepted by others and is making friends. I want to know he's not rejected, or suffering from such depression that the only way out is killing himself! From day one he's been taught not to discriminate against others. He's been taught to be kind and thoughtful of others.

"I'm no Atheist! Neither is my wife....yet....well, we aren't all that active in the church. But I'll tell you, my kid is learning the Golden Rule right at home! I ask him, 'How would you like it if that kid stole your bicycle?' or 'How would you like others calling you names?' or 'How would you like it if they were beating up on you or bullying you?'

"Mr. Emerson......If you ever send my kid home for bullying....his problems have just begun! We'll be down on him in minutes! We don't pamper him as we could. My wife and I are fairly financially well-off. We could do lots more for him, but we won't! And I can assure you he'll know what it's like to be without! Without television, without video games, without his computer and social sites! I don't ever want to find out he bullied a kid to the point of suicide! or being a part of a group which did!...

"...Umm....This will all tie in before the night is over..."

He made several paces back and forth.

"...Well, I believe that's all I've got!......Any questions?......Yes ma'am!..."

He'd directed to a middle-aged woman. She wore a simple cotton print house dress. She clutched what appeared a worn handbag on her lap. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.

"...A few weeks ago......our boy came out to us. Now he's only thirteen! I kept asking him if he was sure! How can he know something like this? And especially at such a young age. I keep telling him most everyone went through this....well, stage of confusion."

Dr. Franklin glanced down for a moment of thought.

"...Ma'am......If he came out to you....You can be ninety-nine percent sure he's being honest!......And age? We all develop at different rates. I can assure you, ma'am he's probably already put a couple years thought into it!...

"I have lots of contact with the gay community up at the community college. And nearly everyone of them will tell you about the same thing......I always knew!...

"Do you recall what age you were when you decided your orientation?....Or did you just somehow....always know? Trust me, ma'am, we're all very sure of something such as that.

"The experimental stage?......Sure! I did it myself!......'I'll show you mine, if I can see yours!'......I had to see how I measured up! There's much more to it than that. It's beyond a natural curiosity. In fact it's not even primarily sex!......It's a romantic attachment. And although we may recognize it at different ages....I'd say thirteen is about right. Young people today are maturing at much earlier ages......Better medical care! Better nutrition! I've heard of boys......and girls that knew of their orientation as early as ten or eleven! They're taught to suppress these feelings. Some are in denial to themselves well into their twenties! Sooner or later they have to accept it......And I think the rest of us should as well.

"When a child comes out to you, they need your support more than ever. Ask a gay person if they would have chosen this path....if indeed they had a choice. Many will tell you they'd never deliberately choose such a difficult lifestyle. It just happened that way! It's been proven where these young people are accepted at a young age, they're just as capable, happy and productive as any heterosexual person. We've got to get rid of that stigma.

"Again....it's not an advocating of the lifestyle, it's advocating tolerance! If your child isn't gay....he or she never will be! You aren't going to teach it. You aren't going to learn it. And you sure aren't going to catch it!

"I hope that answers your question, ma'am. If your boy came to you, he's already put a considerable amount of thought into it! Help him along. Don't make judgments. He's still the same person he's always been. Now you'll have to travel a bit from here, but I'd say to contact a PFLAG. There will be all kinds of parents such as yourself. You aren't alone. Support each other, and support your kids!"

He scanned the room to see a man's hand up.

"Yes sir!..."

"...Yeah!......What I don't understand is why there's all this fuss now! We've all been through school. We learned the basics. We didn't have clubs like this to protect the queers! We all made it. We all survived. I still say we can do without these clubs that coddle all these cream puffs! Let's get back to the basics!"

"...We are getting to the basics! It's just that today there are so many more of them! Not more than years ago......more that we're aware of. Again, better medical, better psychology. Newer methods of detection. Years ago epileptics were considered possessed by demons. If you had poor eyesight....too bad! If you had a learning disability, you were called lazy or stupid! If you got diabetes, you died! If you caught rabies, TB, cancer....you died! Today we're catching these things sooner and helping these people. Sure, bullying goes way back! Is that a reason to tolerate it today? And there's ethics involved more today. We're more concerned about others. Did you know the first child abuse cases were tried using ASPCA laws? That's right! You couldn't do to your horse or mule what you could do to your kids! Times are changing. We're starting to get more humane today. We're recognizing more special needs. The GSA here has nothing to do with the school. It's non-credit. It's not affiliated with the school. These kids here do this on their own time. For a better grade? No! Simply for tolerance. Simply for their friends who they see suffering......and dying! I love these kids! They're great! They're concerned about their friends. They want a safe school where everyone is on equal terms. They aren't coddling their friends. They're just trying to see they're safe. Isn't that what everyone wants?"

"Why protect these degenerates?!"

Dr. Franklin paused here in thought once again.

"...Is that what you call them?......Funny you should bring that up...

"Before our meeting here tonight, one of the students brought something up to me. A young lady asked me why it is people see gays together and then go right to the thoughts of porn sites on the Net. Do people come up with those images when they see a straight couple together?......There's lots more hetero porn sites out there than gay. And they're raw, sadistic things. If you want to see degenerates, I'd suggest you check out the so-called straight porn."

Matt surprised himself as he suddenly spoke out.

"...Those aren't raw porn sites!......Those are ADULT ENTERTAINMENT!"

Some people snickered, some blushed, some hid their faces.

Dr. Franklin pointed to him with a smile.

"...Right!"

Again he took several paces back and forth.

"...Anyone else?..."

He paused for a moment.

"...Okay!......I guess we can turn this over to Reverend Winters!"

The fifty-year-old reverend stepped forward. His hair was thin and gray. His suit fit his barrel-shaped body tightly. He placed his Bible and notebook on the podium. He resettled his silver framed glasses on his nose.

"...Good evening ladies and gentlemen...

"...First of all, again....as these young people say. We're here only for tolerance and not necessarily advocating anything. I'm not here to sway your beliefs one way or the other...

"Shakespeare said, 'Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.'

"I'm truly appalled at the average person's knowledge of the Bible. In the United States, thirty eight percent of the people polled believed the Old Testament was written after Christ's death. People don't know the first four books of the Old Testament. They misquote! 'Pride goeth before a fall.'......No!......'Pride goeth before destruction....and a haughty spirit before a fall.'......I could go on for hours with misquotes.

"Homosexuality......I've spent the last ten years considering this...

"I'm sure you are all aware of and heard of Galileo. He advocated the heliocentric solar system......A sun centered solar system. The church said the earth was at the center....a geocentric solar system. As we all know, Galileo and science proved right...

"Now years ago, life was much simpler......but it certainly wasn't easier! They didn't have giant cranes and diesel dump trucks to quarry rock. They didn't have water cooled, computer controlled saws and drills to cut the rock. They didn't have explosives. This was all done by hand. By slave labor! For even a medium sized city, it took much slave labor to not only build it, but to maintain it. Slavery was just a way of life....a necessity! Most slaves were conquered enemies......'To the victor, goes the spoils of war.'.....In the early US history, it was mostly African-American slaves. Yet people forget the German slaves, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews! Back then, the problem was these people could escape from their captors. They could easily assimilate into society......But if you were black it wasn't that easy. The Bible sanctioned slavery, so long as they were from bordering nations.

"People could be put to death for any number of things. Working on the Sabbath, adultery, eating shellfish, wearing clothing of two fibers or planting more than two crops on your land. Would you advocate this today? I wear glasses! I wouldn't be allowed near the altar of God. Nor would anyone else with a disability! Should we eliminate these people from our churches today? Should we do away with wheelchair ramps and lifts? Should we turn away the crippled on crutches? How about your elderly parents with canes, special shoes or other prosthetics? Would you make it illegal for them to attend services? I think the answers are obvious!

"The Bible has been used for terrible things!....wars, crusades, the inquisition! It supported Hitler's Third Reich, the holocaust, witch hunting! It was used to oppose medical science....all science in general for that matter! What if we could, well....Time Travel someone from Biblical days to the present? What kind of evil would they see?......Your cell phone? You'd show them how they could talk to people thousands of miles away. Why, they'd condemn you as a sorcerer! They never saw gaslights, much less electric! Would they travel by train, bus, airplane or the family car? I'd believe they'd be too terrified to try any! Television? The Internet? Communication satellites? The Space lab?......Landing on the moon? Computers? A modern hospital? How about a child's remote control car or airplane? It would be beyond their comprehension! A modern church allowing people in with defects? And we're right back to the wheelchair ramps.

"Now if homosexuality were such a sin......Why didn't Christ say anything about it? If this was such a big issue, I'm sure He would have said something about it and given some sort of explanation. Why didn't people ask Him? The Jewish prophets said nothing. When God finished creating everything, the Bible says, 'And, the Lord saw that it was good.' So if He created a gay person, isn't that person good?! There's not much evidence today as to why a person is created gay. Yet there's plenty of evidence that there is no choice in the matter! So now how can we be held ethically or morally responsible for something with which we have no choice over?

"I keep asking myself....Why would God create a homosexual, only to condemn him or her for something in which they had no choice? Choice, people......God gives us all freedom of choice! If we have no choice, how can we possibly be held accountable?

"Many people will point to the Apostle Paul's writings to give credence that homosexuality is a sin......What Paul was writing about here was the Roman practice of pederasty! I was a form of pedophilia which was very common in the ancient world. Rich, well-to-do men bought young boys and used them as sex slaves....concubines! We don't tolerate such today! This has been taken out of context....It's comparing the sexual exploitation of children to mature, consenting same sex relationships."

He paused here as he looked out over the room.

"...Today I see these young boys in the news......suicides!......Ladies.... gentlemen....Our children are dying out there! They're being harassed!.... beaten....oppressed....persecuted....And all for something they have no control, no choice over. They will even tell you that! It's what they are! They didn't choose this life! We've seriously got to stop and take a long look at this."

He held his hand out, indicating the students at the front of the room.

"...God bless these young people here, ladies and gentlemen......They simply want peace and tolerance. Jesus was called the Prince of peace! He was opposed to any violence for any reason......Turn the other cheek? They only wish to gather together in a peaceful setting and enjoy each others company......To socialize together and be silly! Yes! Happy! 'A merry heart does good as a medicine!'

"Doctor Franklin pointed out the photos back there. I too was touched! I also ask you all to look at those photos before you leave tonight. I too can see the lighthearted atmosphere! I can see students working together for a common goal. I can see cooperation, teamwork and friendships! These tasks they're doing here....They're all somewhat routine....yet you'll notice no one person is struggling with anything. Each are helping the other. If those photos were put up there with photos of any other club......I'd be able to pick out the GSA club! It's just so obvious! I see peace. I see harmony. I see acceptance. Not one of those photos gives me the mental image of a gun to a head!....An overdose of drugs!....An awful noose around a tiny neck!

"...These students here......They aren't promoting any lifestyle! They're here for your children! And before you say your children aren't gay......don't be too sure of it! If they aren't, they won't be......If they are....they are! And please people......Don't run off looking for a cure! Nothing needs curing.......They aren't sick!......Nothing needs repairing.......Nothing's broke!

"These....these charlatans out there will tell you what you want to hear! They'll get you deeper and deeper into a state of denial! And all the while, they'll be siphoning your bank account down to zero! They're out there looking out for themselves! They're going to use your distress to make themselves rich..."

He glanced around the room with a smile.

"...And....well, unlike my windy sermons......I believe I'm done here. Questions?..."

A young boy raised his hand.

"...Yes, young man!..."

"...Umm......My friend told me he was gay. I guess he had a kinda hard time tellin' me. Well, I told him it doesn't make any difference! We've been friends all our lives! I couldn't be mean to him! I couldn't tell him I didn't want to be friends with him any more. So big deal! He's gay! We still wanna hang out together......It's my parents!"

The reverend smiled.

"...They think you're going to catch something from him?..."

"...Well, I don't think it's that too much. I think they're worried about what people are going to say about me. You know....hangin' out with a gay kid. They worry."

"...Yes indeed. 'What will the neighbors think?'......Jesus had to put up with that for His entire ministry. Yes....He hung out with drunks, prostitutes, thieves, beggars and muggers. The thing was......He was old enough to be able to do it!......Yes. The social stigma!

"About all I can suggest is you talk to him at school. Explain it to him. If he's a good friend, I'm sure he'll understand. In a few more years, you'll be in college or out there in the work-a-day world. You'll have the rest of your lives to be friends. And then give him a big hug! After that....give him another big hug and tell him it's from me!"

He pointed to a girl.

"...And this young lady?"

"...Yes sir......I have a friend that's gay too, but my parents are cool with that......It's just I'm worried about her...

"...Her mother found a bunch of love notes she and her girlfriend wrote to each other. Now she's not allowed to see her any more. She used to be a real happy and fun person to be with. She's really down now. She doesn't want to do anything any more! I'm really scared for her. She's just soooo depressed..."

"...Oh dear. Has she said anything specific?......Would she harm herself?"

"...Well, not exactly......You have to know her. It just seems like she's given up on everything! She just doesn't care about anything any more......She hasn't said it......but you can hear it......Without her girlfriend....it seems like she just doesn't want to go on!"

"...Oh dear!...

"Please, miss......After our meeting tonight, met with us in the kitchen there. I assure you this will all be in the strictest of confidence."

He gazed out over the room again.

"...Any more questions?...

"...Fine......I'll turn this back over to Jim here..."

Jim took his position before the room. He drew the bulletin boards apart a bit more to give access to the chalk board behind. Tim and another boy began writing on the board, adding several things which had been overlooked earlier that evening.

"...Well......We have someone here who serves as our well......researcher! In fact there really isn't a name for his position. He simply digs out news stories from....wherever! Well, news that would be of interest to us anyhow. Also lots of facts and figures."

He nodded toward Matt who went up before the chalk board. Tim walked up to the podium and placed several sheets of paper on it, returning to his seat. Jim continued.

"...Matty and I and a few others here, really eat this stuff up! Okay it appeals to the geek in us!......By the same token......we also know how boring this sort of thing can be for others. All I'm asking is that you hear Matty out......He has a way of umm....making figures mean something! I believe our area here has been blessed to not have any of this around here.

"...Again people......We aren't here to advocate any particular lifestyle. All we want is harmony and peace in our school...

"...All set Matt?"

Matt nodded with a smile as he made his way to the podium.

"...Focus!..." he heard Mr. Webster's voice.

"...Tonight I'd like to bring up not only bullying, but suicide facts."

He paused, gathering his thoughts.

"The teen years are troubling for all of us. Many of us are going through....the change!"

Several people chuckled at this.

"...Yes. Now I can't exactly recall my last really klutzy accident. I'm hoping Principal Emerson is right....and this is going it's way......Oh how I hope! I was afraid for a bit there that I was going to get suspended for my thick record!......Oh! Not in his office....the nurse's office!"

He glanced back toward Mr. Emerson with a smile.

"...Well....You've got to admit, sir, I still haven't started any fires or blew up the science lab yet!"

Mr. Emerson nodded as others chuckled.

"...Well, I've pretty much been a loner for the first couple years here at school. I could be as klutzy as I wanted. It didn't bother me to be alone. It gave me time to reflect on lots of things....think about stuff. I enjoyed it! For some kids, that's difficult. In fact through the teens, we experience many different things. Our bodies change, we develop a bit more mature interests than we had in grade school. We question more things. And for some kids, this can be waayyy too much for them to cope with! Now as if these aren't turbulent enough times...... add to that, realizing you're gay!"

He held out his hand toward the chalkboard.

"...These figures aren't exact people. They change from year to year. They change by geographic location. Lots of factors are involved. Divorce....Step-mom or dad....step brothers or sisters. The amount of care and help teens get from their families. How well accepted they are around school.

"Take a look at that first line up there. The fifteen to twenty-four-year-old group. Teens and young adults. Suicide is the third leading cause of death! That's topped out only by accidents and murder! Now don't you find that rather scarey? I get the chills!"

He stepped back a bit and glanced over the room.

"...Sure....you people are scared about your kid taking the car out. You might even worry about them getting mugged!......Yet how many of you actually sit and worry about your kid committing suicide?!......I'll bet for some of you, the thought never came up! Am I right?

"...Now take a look at that next line......the ten to fourteen age group......suicide is fourth place! Doesn't that scare you?! Have you put that on your list of things to worry about?

"Now let's look at some of the reasons for suicide......Depression......Well, yes!"

He paused for a moment and paced a bit.

"...I'll be honest here......I've had my down days, but I can honestly say I don't believe I've ever been....depressed....a day in my life! I've never had something that bad happen to me!

"...Violence in the home! Sure!....but not in my case...

"Inability to find success at school....Oop's!......Down day!"

People chuckled here.

"Rejection by friends or peers......Well, sure! If you have any friends. Again, no effect on me. I was perfectly happy out at the park....Alone!....I'd sit out in the pavilion with my notebook and write......And think some more. Writing helped me to organize my thoughts. I enjoyed being alone! I loved it!......Like Jimmy says....part of the geek in me!...

"From what I've seen around this school......I believe that ranks number one! It's very important for lots of students to have friends and be a part of a group. Hey! People! That's what we're here for! We're all friends here!....And we want you to be one!"

"Parents won't let us!" a young girl's voice sounded out.

"Your parents won't let you have friends?"

"Not gay ones!"

"...I'm sorry to hear that..."

He turned back to the board.

"Substance abuse......I guess that means drugs 'n' alcohol...

"Okay, so we've had a few DWI's in town......Drugs? Well, if there are drugs going on, I haven't heard of it. I really don't think that's a problem in our school. The kids here are smarter than that. They know what that stuff can do to you.

"And now some of the signs that your child may be at risk....I'll hit what I believe to be the highlights...

"Talks about death and/or suicide....Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her....Shows signs of depression....Begins to give away sentimental possessions.

"Now that last one there would worry me! A kid giving away all his music and movie CD's?......Giving away his video game CD's?....And here's another one that scares me...

"Becomes suddenly cheerful after a period of depression. Well sure. Correct me if you think I'm wrong......He's made up his mind he's going through with it! Now most people would think of that as a positive reaction! Don't be so sure of it!"

He approached the podium and lifted two photos. They were both boys. They appeared fourteen or fifteen. Both were neatly dressed, yet casual. Their hair was blond and below the ears. Both seemed to have large, happy smiles.

"...These boys are from out-of-state. I don't know if you've seen their photos on the news. In fact their names escape me right now. They were straight A students! They were never in any trouble! They didn't smoke or drink or use drugs. They were friends."

He passed through the aisle between the chairs, holding the photos out to the parents.

"...You know something else?......I think they're cute! And they weren't even gay!"

He returned to the front of the room.

"...Help me out here Mr. Heath......What's the term I'm looking for here ....someone who looks like a boy or a girl?..."

"...Androgynous?..."

"...That's it!....Androgynous!....I always wanna say anhydrous....That's without water, right?"

People chuckled.

"...Yeah, androgynous!......Some people say girly looking. Okay, maybe so, but they weren't gay!......But students thought they were!......And they were bullied for a year! Nearly every day! They were tripped in the halls. They had their textbooks and homework thrown out the window. They were beat up! They had urine squirted into their lockers....nasty notes! They were just constantly harassed every day!"

He went for a table and lifted a poster sized photo which had been face down. It was a boy on a ventilator. It was obvious the dressing on his neck had been pulled down. A wide, dark violet bruise ran around it.

"...This! People!......This is that first boy! Take a good look at this!"

He walked up and down the aisle again, holding the photo over his head.

"THIS! Is what those numbers up there really are!......Kinda puts some meaning into those dry numbers up there, doesn't it! It's not quite so geeky now, huh?!"

Everyone gasped. Several women, drew handkerchiefs to their lips.

"...This boy lasted TWELVE DAYS on this machine! He was brain dead! This wasn't a suicide!......The bullies did this. It was just as though they put the noose over his head and pushed him out of the tree! Would you be proud to be the parents of the kids who pushed this little guy to do something like this?!......Can you imagine what was going through this little guy's head just before this happened?!......He had to be really out of it!"

He returned to the front of the room, tossing the poster back to the table.

"I wish I had a photo of the other boy!......He hung himself in the garage! His little sister found him!....Five hours later! I can just imagine that blue face, bulging eyes and that tongue hanging out!......If I walked into my garage and saw my brother hanging there for five hours, they'd have to put me in a padded cell for the rest of my life! I'd be a basket case! I seriously don't think I'd ever recover!"

He nodded to Tim and a boy sitting beside him. They went to the front of the room and began turning the bulletin boards. People gasped, a woman let out a wail. They were assorted photos of injured students, both boys and girls who'd been beaten. Some were obviously taken at the very time by cell phones.

"Here's some more statistics people! Kinda brings those numbers and percentages to life, doesn't it?....or should I say death?!"

The boys began slowly wheeling the bulletin boards up the aisle and down again.

"Oh dear!......Oh my God!......Terrible!......Awful!" could be heard.

Matt remained at the front of the room as he pointed at the boards.

"Okay people......Now these are gay kids! Take a good look! Which kids would you want for your own?......These right here?....or the ones who did this to them?!...

"You say you aren't raising bullies?......What are you saying when you don't know the kids are even listening?......Fag?!......Queer?!......Degenerates? ....Sickos?! And what do you say when they're right in the room with you?!...... 'They should be hung?!'......'We should kill 'em all?!'......'Serves 'em right?!'...... 'Way to go?!'......'Beat 'em to death?!'"

It was here a young girl gasped and got to her feet. She covered her face and broke out crying as she made her way out the door. Principal Emerson quickly followed. He seemed to be trying to calm her in the hall. She suddenly ran back inside, tears dripping from her chin. She confronted two adults.

"...THAT DOES IT!" she screamed, "I don't want anything more to do with your....your HATE! I'm going to have my own friends and I don't care if they're gay! They're human! They're not animals! If you don't like it, I'll move in with Aunt Grace. I'm not going to live like this any more!......Fuck you!......And fuck your church too! And all the hateful monsters in it!"

Mr. Heath and Dr. Franklin quickly assisted Mr. Emerson in drawing her out into the hall again.

"...I CAN'T HATE!..." echoed down the hall, "...I CAN'T LIVE WITH ALL THIS HATE ANY MORE!"

They drew her toward the direction of the office.

The reverend leaned forward with his face in his hands.

Matt remained quiet as Tim and the other boy returned the bulletin boards to the front.

As the room quieted, they saw Matt wipe his eyes with his sleeve. He began to walk up and down the aisle as he spoke with less anger in his voice.

"...I can't live with all this hate either. None of us can. We just all want to be friends. We want peace and tolerance. Why is it asking for so much? We're not recruiting your kids into a gay club!......We're asking them in as friends. They aren't going to learn to be gay. We want them to learn what it's like to be gay. None of us decided we were going to be gay......it just happened! Who in their right mind would choose a life like this?"

It was here where Mr. Webster saw Mr. Meadows hang his head.

"Timmy and I here, went out to the river this past summer......We met a couple other boys out there. Well, the fact is, we sort of walked in on 'em. We didn't even know they were out there. We sorta interrupted a simple little kiss. We were all a little embarrassed. But the boys were terrified we were going to say something to someone......Say what? About what?

"They were just so scared! We told 'em not to worry about it. And that we weren't bullies either. I guess after a bit, they figured we could be trusted. We ran into each other from time to time over the summer. They're a couple years younger than us, but very mature. We had a great summer together. I guess they got outed accidentally and their parents are keeping 'em apart now. It scares me. They're just both so depressed. Me 'n' Tim worry about them. They're good kids! I wonder how many people out there would like to trade their rotten kids for 'em.

"One of these boys can't use his computer any more. He can't phone friends. He can't ever be with his boyfriend any more! Every minute of his time has to be accounted for! He can't join any extracurricular activities. He's just so....so alone in life! He's so isolated! I don't know how he copes with it. I guess we all have our own.....well, breaking point! I don't know how long this poor little guy is going to be able to hold out!"

He reached the front of the room again, tears on his face. He held his hand out to the chalk board.

"...We don't want our friend being part of those statistics up there! He hasn't done anything wrong! He's not guilty of anything! Look at those numbers and percentages! I want you to go beyond those numbers and think about their families. Think about the parents, brothers, sisters......Think about the aunts and uncles....the cousins. Think about the hundreds of other people effected by this!....And then think about that happening in your family!"

He paced several feet in each direction as he wiped his eyes again.

"...I'm sorry......This stuff just gets to me. Yes! I'm tired of the hate too!..."

He stood before the students in the front rows. He held out his arms to them. It hadn't been so much a gesture to them as it had been an exclusion toward the adults. He then pointed to the door.

"...Who was that girl?......I'm not all that familiar with names here..."

"...Rachel," someone called out.

"...Okay people......She's probably going to be feeling a bit out of it tomorrow. Maybe even a little embarrassed......She needs our support! She needs it now more than ever. Let's make it a point tomorrow we back her. We do don't we? We're all anti-hate! We're all anti-violence! She probably even feels guilty for something she never did. We've got to let her know that this isn't her fault!...

"When you see her pass in the halls tomorrow....take one single minute. Give her a hug. Give her a high-five! Let her know we support her and her ideas. Let her know we're all tired of the hate! And tell her things are getting better!......Okay, not as fast as we'd like, but we aren't going to change this all overnight......People just love to hate!"

He returned to the front of the room, wiping his eyes again.

"...The reverend here tells us the Bible was used for some terrible things......People are going to interpret it in such a way as to support their ideas. Is the Bible infallible? I think it is! Yet, what about our interpretation of it?......We are not infallible! We still say sunset and sunrise even though we know the sun isn't orbiting the earth. We've found Galileo was right all along! One man....against the entire rest of the world! He knew what he was seeing through his telescope! He didn't live in a state of denial! He set himself up against the whole world as it was in his time. He risked some awful torture!......He had to recant his statements or be subjected to hateful violence! And people believed God wanted it that way! I don't think God hates! And I'll go one more!....I don't think God is capable of hate!"

He paced several more times.

"...I was on the Net a few weeks ago. I was researching gay news items. They had some photos on a site about a gay rally somewhere......There was this girl wearing a t-shirt that said, 'I love Jesus!......It's His fan club I can't stand!'......I'd say that's something to think about."

He held out his hand to the bulletin board of photos again.

"...And this is something to think about! Do you really want your kids doing this sort of thing? Are you proud of it? Are you directly or indirectly teaching your kids that this is right?! I don't think any of you want to see your kid hooked up to machines to keep them alive! What about the kids who did this?! What about the kids who drove these others to end their lives?! Before you say fag or queer in front of your kids again......think about your infallibility. And if you don't want to admit that......for God's sake!....Think about Galileo! He turned the religious world upside-down!"

He gazed at the photos for several seconds and turned to Jim.

"...I guess that's all I've got, Jim......Anything to add?..."

Jim stood and walked up to Matt. He threw his arm over his shoulder and gave him a quick hug.

"...That was great!......I don't know if that fell on deaf ears or not...

"People! We really want you to stay for just a few minutes. If you want....I'll get down on my knees and beg you to stay a bit longer! We've got coffee and donuts back there. Help yourself! And talk to each other! You aren't alone!"

People took their time getting to their feet. As the crowd slowly made their way to the back, the parents of the girl named Rachel, became mixed within it. They quietly made their way to the door and ducked out.

Mr. Emerson shook hands with parents, calling them by name and thanked them for being present. The students swamped the doctor and reverend and thanked them as well. A young girl stood between them both, thanking them over and over. She apologized for their lack of funds to pay them for their time. The reverend squeezed her shoulder.

"...Missy......What I've seen here tonight is worth more than whatever gold would buy me!......You kids are very mature and intelligent. I'm proud to say I'm aboard your ship!"

The doctor shook her hand.

"...I took notes tonight! I'm going to use them in my next class lecture. I'd be proud to have any one of you as my student!"

Matt was looking for Mr. Emerson but couldn't find him in the crowd. He noticed Mr. Heath enter and approached him quickly.

"...Umm....Is Rachel okay?" he asked quietly.

Mr. Heath nodded.

"Principal Emerson's secretary is with her......I believe her aunt is going to be picking her up."

Matt asked no further questions.

Many people greeted Dr. Franklin and Rev. Winters. Others seemed to be in a number of conversations with many of the other parents. Mr. Meadows and Mr. Shelby seemed to gather together along a distant wall. Both appeared most sober and serious. Mr. Heath glanced over the crowd. He was amazed that nobody was leaving quickly. He'd frequently introduce parents to each other and begin a conversation. He wanted to keep them talking and interested.

Parents studied the photos at the front of the room again. Others waited their turn at the bulletin board toward the rear. Most people seemed lighthearted, however many seemed in deep thought, nearly doleful. Mr. Webster noticed Mr. Meadows giving quick glances toward Matt. It was almost as though he were waiting for him to be alone.

The students continued to revel among themselves. They assisted in resupplying the cups, sugar and creamer on the table. They all appeared happy and talkative. Many bought juice or soft drinks from the vending machines. Mr. Emerson glanced around. He too was astonished at the number of people remaining. He noticed Matt walking for him, understanding his question that he'd not even asked yet.

"...Umm....Matthew......I'm sure everything will work out just fine...

"...Now as far as your friend Jerry....er....Scooter......We're still working on that. Don't take any thought of it. I understand your apprehension, but I don't believe he'll do anything.... rash!"

Matt didn't seem convinced as he nodded and walked away. Several of the adults neared Matt and spoke to him. Many patted his back in reassurance. They understood his concern.

"Let me tell you, you sure grabbed my attention when you came out with those photos! You're right!....Those pictures really put life into those facts....If....if you'd want to call it that..."

Many people congratulated him on his presentation, yet he felt too removed. He thought again of him and Tim being separated. He wondered how he'd cope.

Michelle and Angel stepped up to him.

"Wanna give us a hand, Matt?......Mr. Emerson said there's some punch concentrate in the kitchen. We gotta mix it up."

"Now he tells us!"

Angel stepped in closer to him.

"...I think he had others things on his mind tonight......Rachel?..."

Matt nodded silently as he followed them into the kitchen. He noticed the two of them join hands as they walked.

"...Hey, are you two like an....umm....item now?"

Michelle glanced over to him.

"...Angel and I have always known about each other. It's just that little party your folks threw for you 'n' Tim! I mean we've talked to each other at meetings and that....Just never long enough! And at that party....well, we really got to know each other better...

"...Umm....It's nothing all that serious right now. We're just sort of testing the waters or whatever you call it!"

They drew over a large stainless steel kettle.

"Let's make it a bit strong......The ice is going to melt and dilute it."

Ayumi and Ken enjoyed a coffee at a table. Both had noticed Mr. Meadows glancing into the kitchen toward Matt.

Ayumi glanced up at Ken.

"Do you think he's about to confront Matt tonight?..."

Ken sighed.

"...Matty all but outed himself up there tonight! He used too much we and us in his presentation. I think Rich caught it tonight...

"It's where he said, 'None of us decided we were going to be gay......it just happened!' Did you notice how that kind of got him thinking?"

"Maybe we should go over there and be a little......progressive?"

"You're right..."

They gathered near Mr. Meadows and Mr. Shelby. After introductions Ken spoke first.

"...Wow!......I'll bet you're really proud of that little guy of yours! He really knows how to make a presentation! He's going to go a long ways in this world once he gets out there!"

"Oh yes!" Ayumi put in, "Cynthia worries about him being a problem for us. Never! Why he's a part of the family! So mature....So intelligent. They're constantly on the computer. And Tim doesn't even close the door! We pass by and they've always got some science site on......I'm not saying they don't get a bit competitive on those video games though. They find a respectable balance between studying and simply having a little fun!...

"...I felt so poorly for him when he got a bit teary......yet, I think it added to the impact of his subject. Oh......Richard....I see so much of this working in a hospital! If these kids can help prevent just one suicide....this was all worth it!"

"That's right," Ken continued, "These kids today are working under lots of pressure! Technology! It doesn't stop. Add to that all the routine adolescent problems of fitting in, questioning new things, figuring out who you are......It's got to be difficult...

"...I've read some of Matt's writing. Wow!......Very well thought out. Very articulate! He's got words in there that I didn't understand 'til college! And I still say it....Matt and Tim were made for each other! They support each other. Great kids! We're proud of them both!"

Michelle and Angel each took hold of a handle of the large kettle.

"...We'll get this, Matty......Grab some plastic cups out of the cabinet over there by the ovens."

As soon as the girls left, Mr. Meadows rushed for the kitchen without a word.

"...Matthew!......I want the truth here....Are you gay?!"

Matt placed two stacks of cups on the counter. He looked up, hesitating.

"...Yeah, Dad......I'm gay..."

Mr. Meadows seemed to freeze in place for several seconds. He straightened up and walked out of the kitchen. He rushed through the cafeteria and out the door.

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