PUBLICATION: PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
SECTION: FEATURES FRESH INK
BYLINE: by Theresa Conroy, Daily News Staff Writer
They've jumped him and beaten him. They've trashed his locker, hit him in the back of the head with a Bible, spat on him and stabbed him with a pencil.
Once, they even threatened to kill him.
``I was in the locker room of PE [physical education], and six guys surrounded me,'' remembers Bruce Murray, 17. ``They said they would sexually torture me and kill me and dump me in a ditch.''
His classmates hated Bruce Murray this much because he's gay.
``In high school it was hell,'' Murray says. ``Every time I'd go down the hall it was `fag this' and `fag that.' I tried to turn the other cheek.''
After the ``death threats,'' though, Murray couldn't take it anymore. His parents - who Murray says were unable to persuade school officials to help - took Murray out of his high school in Seymour, Ind., and enrolled him in correspondence school. He's been studying by mail since his sophomore year.
He needed to be separated from the hate, but he's going back - at least for one night: Murray is planning to attend the Seymour High School Winter Dance with a date (a girl and she's just a friend).
``I don't know if I'm doing something bold or stupid,'' he says of his decision to attend the dance. ``I'm nervous about it, but I think it'll make a statement . . . I kind of want to go back and say, `Look, you made my life hell, you thought you got the best of me, but you didn't. Like, ha!' ''
If any of the offenders want to apologize, Murray - as difficult as this seems - will be happy to accept: ``I don't feel hostile toward these people. A lot has to do with how they grew up. If someone asks me for forgiveness, I'll say yeah. It opens the doors.''
If Murray can help open the doors to education and understanding, he will be helping to provide entryways to an eventual end to bias toward gays and lesbians, he says. Taking those steps - especially at his old high school's winter dance - means coming way, way out of the closet.
And that's exactly what Murray's done. Now Bruce Murray, once the high school whipping boy, is Bruce Murray, the gay teen activist.
He attends a support group for gay and lesbian teens and has been included in a PBS special about gay teens. Last month, he held a press conference in Washington - timed to coincide with House subcommittee hearings on ``Parents, Schools and Values'' - to call for better sex education in schools.
If the teens at Seymour High had learned a little more about homosexuals - namely, that they are human beings - Murray believes they wouldn't have beaten and harassed him.
``Nothing much was really mentioned [in high school classes],'' Murray says. ``They said some people in our society are heterosexual and some are homosexual. Like, whoa, that was helpful! They basically made it sound like HIV was a gay disease . . . I think what would help some is to recognize what gay teen-agers go through and teach something about it, if the school board would put their foot down for harassing gay people.''
Before becoming involved in gay teen organizations, Murray's only respite from the hell was at home. His parents, Murray says, are accepting and understanding of his sexual orientation.
He's grown especially close to his mom Ria who, suspecting that her son was gay, eased his coming out four years ago by passing along a newspaper article about a teen support group.
``She said, `Isn't that great, they have a support group for gay and lesbians? If you know of anyone who might benefit from it, pass it on,' '' Murray remembers. ``Two days later I came out to my mom. We had a recliner my mom and I used to sit on to talk about our day. She said, `Bruce, are you gay?' I started bawling and said yes.
``She did the best possible thing - she put her arms around me, hugged me and said, `You're my son. I love you.' ''
Since then, his parents have supported his activism. His mother started a Seymour branch of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) - not something you see everyday in a small town like Seymour - and she stood beside him during the Washington press conference, when he described how violently he'd been harassed.
``My mother and I kind of fight together - side by side,'' he says.
They fought together in D.C. on Dec. 5 after being urged by members of PFLAG. Murray opened his wounds in public to draw attention to the lack of tolerance in high schools, especially those in small towns, and to call for the kind of enlightened sex-ed programs that could help end the ignorance.
``I think it would be a lot easier if I lived in a bigger city such
as New York, but I always believed in my heart that there's a reason I'm
going through a hard time and this has happened. It made me a stronger
and better person."
Republished on the web with the permission on the Philadelphia Daily News