Cassidy Mullin: 2019 Anne Mackay Scholarship WinnerBARBARA PFANZ2019-06-19T14:02:37-04:00
By Cassidy Mullin
Mattituck High School
2019 Anne Mackay Scholarship Winner Cassidy Mullin
Cassidy Mullin When I was in eighth grade, my classmates started bullying me. First it was for being a tomboy, then for having a short temper, then because they thought I was gay. At the time, I didn’t know I was. My best friend got me through it, but then they started bullying her too. Calling her names, making fun of her for being my “girlfriend”. I couldn’t take it. I went to my mom, and she went to the dean of students, and all of the bullies got in trouble. At least, got in trouble within the school. Back home, many of their parents had been lenient, even supportive of their actions. Eighth grade was the first time I felt hated by people who didn’t even know me.
When I was in ninth grade, with the help of the Internet and a friend, I realized I was bisexual. Suddenly, the way I’d felt towards certain girls made sense. At the same time, there was this girl I liked who was also gay, so we started dating, and when she asked me to keep it a secret I felt the same way I had back in eighth grade. It wasn’t that she was scared of random people knowing, but she didn’t want her parents knowing. She wasn’t out, and she didn’t know how they would respond. She was scared. So I kept quiet. A month later, she broke up with me. She said she was too anxious, too scared of her parents finding out and rejecting her. I left it at that and left her alone like she asked.
When I was in tenth grade, I started dating one of my close friends. I loved her. Our friends were supportive, and we were mostly able to keep it hidden from the adults in our lives. Including her immensely homophobic parents. She wasn’t the only gay kid in our friend group who had homophobic parents, but she was one of the few who wasn’t fooled by them into being ashamed of who she was. But I was out at school, and once again people started bullying her, this time for being my friend. She was scared, and she told me. I knew it hurt her, but I didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to tell her parents, but she did want their acceptance. She tried to come out to them, and later I learned that their response was basically that if she was gay, they were kicking her out. She never told me this happened, just broke up with me, stopped talking to me, and broke my heart. I had my own issues with my family, I didn’t yet trust my therapist, and had no other close friends I trusted. I felt completely and utterly alone. That spring was the worst of my life, and my depression and anxiety only got worse and worse.
I wish there was a strong ending to this, but the truth is I didn’t start to normal again until my ex reached out to me again the following august. Though I am happy to say we are friends again. But the sad fact of the matter is that what has happened to me is hardly the worst of the bullying and ostracization that has occurred to LGBT students, even within my own school. I know far too many who slipped into severe depression, developed anxiety, been estranged by their parents, or who have gone so far as to reject the rest of our community and join the bullies that tormented us and I can’t imagine that’s healthy for them.
I know I alone can’t stop bullying; I know that not even an entire school administration can, not if parents at home support (if not encourage) the behavior. Not when we still have parents calling middle schoolers slurs on back to school night. But I also know what I can do. I can work to promote self-confidence and pride in LGBT students. I can help to promote safe spaces for these students to be themselves without fear of being outed. I can work to promote diversity, and I can help to encourage acceptance and inclusion within the community around me. So that’s what I’ve done.
In tenth grade, I joined our school GSA, locally called our Unity Club. I was one of three members. We didn’t do much, but knowing there were other students who were at least comfortable enough to join the club was something. The next year, I convinced my ex to join, and between us and our mutual friends in the group, we decided to throw a Unity Dance. The most similar thing I can compare it too is a second chance prom. We organized and planned, wrote numerous grant requests, scoured amazon for rainbow party supplies, fund raised, and received clearance from our administration to invite students from other schools. It was a success, in more ways than one. After the dance, multiple students approached me and my club members to thank us, because it was one of the only school functions many of them had gone to. For me, the highlight of the dance was seeing an old friend, who had walked away from our friend group when her parents first started being openly homophobic. This year, Riverhead High School through the dance, and it continued to be a fun safe space.
Closer to home, me and my fellow co-president are working with the younger club members to help them feel confident in their identities, and make home life safer for all of them. Along with support, we attend youth forums and LGBT Conferences. From three members to nearly fifteen, I am proud to say our club is doing what we set out to do. In September, I will be attending Stony Brook University, and on campus they have one of the largest LGBT centers among universities. They work directly with the LGBT Network, and I can’t wait to do my part.