He saw the story in the newspaper last week, the one about the 15-year-old kid up in Augusta who's ''perceived as gay'' by other kids who like to hit.
Young, gay, vulnerable to bullies
He read about how four younger boys, all between 11 and 13, taunted and spat upon the 15-year-old at a bus stop on the first day of school. How last May, another pack of young thugs chased him up to a third-floor apartment balcony, pummeled him mercilessly and threatened to throw him off. How all of this is happening, police explained, because the 15-year-old is ''different.''
He read all of this and, in a way most of us never could, he understood.
''No one should have to live with this kind of pain,'' he said quietly. ''And no one should have to grow up miserable.''
He's a 17-year-old junior in a Portland area high school whose name will not appear here for one very simple reason. It's too dangerous.
But he wants all of us to know that there are many like him and the kid from Augusta. Kids who hear the word ''dyke'' or ''fag'' and run because to stick around is to have your head kicked in. Kids who cower because to fight back is to prolong the torture.
''There's nothing anybody can say that will take away the pain, that will take away the fear,'' he said. ''There's nothing anybody can say. . . .
He sat on his living room couch Friday afternoon, recalling how he he was ''outed by a 'friend' '' his freshman year and, from that day on, became fair game for any classmate in need of an easy target.
It is a world, he said, where you don't dare walk down an empty corridor, where you spend hours at a time hiding in the school nurse's office, where you fall behind in class because while other kids are busy writing down their homework assignments, you're trying to figure out how to get to your next class without getting punched in the stomach.
It is also a world of suicidal despair.
''I've tried twice,'' he said. ''One time I almost jumped off the top of a parking garage, but a friend grabbed my legs and pulled me down. The other time I OD'd on Tylenol. . . . I took a whole bottle but it just made me sick. Oh, and I've also scarred my arms - but it was never really that close to the veins.''
In the past year, he's transferred from one school to another, dropped out and, this fall, returned part time to the first school. He runs from his car to class and, the moment the bell sounds, runs back ''before anyone can see me or even know I'm here.''
His parents are supportive, he says, but as he grows older he knows they can protect him only so much. His real source of strength comes from Outright - an organization dedicated to providing gay and lesbian teen-agers a safe haven, a place where for a few precious hours each week, they belong.
''We've got kids coming from Windham, Gorham, Biddeford, Saco, Gray,'' he said. ''And we've got chapters in Lewiston, Bangor, Waldo-Knox counties.''
Earlier Friday, our young friend called Steve Wessler, who handles hate crimes for the Maine Attorney General's Office, and asked him to convey a message to the boy in Augusta.
''I said to ask him if he'd like to come to one of our meetings,'' he said. ''And if transportation's a problem, I said I'll go up there and get him myself.''
He paused for a moment, thinking back on the first time he felt the fists of kids whose hatred blossomed from the bigotry they saw around them.
''Fifteen,'' he said. ''That's how old I was, too.''
Bill Nemitz is a columnist for The Portland Newspapers.
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