The following is a transcript of Austin Gay & Lesbian Pride Foundation President Paul Huddleston’s speech, delivered on Saturday, October 6, 2012 on the steps of the Texas State Capitol after the March Against Hate up Congress Avenue in response to the attack against Andrew Oppleman and Nick Soret during Austin’s Pride Weekend.
My name is Paul Huddleston, I am the President of the AGLPF, better known as, Austin PRIDE. I, along with the rest of our board, were saddened to hear about the vicious attack that took place the night before the annual PRIDE celebration here in Austin. When I learned of the attack I immediately reached out to Andrew to find out if he was ok and what I could do to help. He asked me to join in on the march, so here I am.
Let me first start by telling you that I grew up, for the most part, in Killeen TX, just an hour North of Austin. I first noticed my feelings towards boys in the 4th grade. Thinking there must have been something wrong with me I did everything I could to suppress these feelings. I had girlfriends. I went out on dates with girls. I did everything I could think of to fit into the ‘norm’ of what I thought society wanted to see from me. Unfortunately, I am what some would call ‘obvious’. Which is why I think my bullying started in middle school. I was called every name in the book: ‘fag’ , ‘faggot’ , ‘sissy’ , ‘homo’ and worse. It started in 8th grade and progressively got worse as the years rolled on.
In 10th grade I decided to accept what I was. I was gay. I walked through the halls of my high school being called ‘fag’ every day. Some days worse than others. It got to the point that by the middle of my junior year I was called names, pushed in the halls, and objects thrown at me in class became a daily occurrence. Until one day, I had enough. I was sitting in my geometry class, 5 minutes before the bell rang, when a considerably larger boy, a member of the football team, wearing a letterman jacket turned to me and asked ‘Are you a faggot, or what?”. That was my tipping point. I had enough. My response was “I am the biggest faggot you have ever seen.” And with that the class erupted, laughing, yelling, calling me names, the works. The bell rang and I bolted for the door.
My best friend met me in the hall and I told him what just happened. As kids from the classrooms poured into the hallway, derogatory names, laughing and snickering began filling the corridor. To which he turned, to no one in particular, down the hall and shouted ‘I’m gay too!’. With that we were off…down the hall and out to the parking lot to make our escape.
I was lucky. I had a friend who stood by me and literally came out with me in the middle of our high school. From that point on we went everywhere together. Walked each other to class, even held hands down the hallway…a safety in numbers type of thing. We were branded the freaks, the weirdos, those queers. I was lucky in the sense that I had someone to walk down that rocky path with. To lean on when things got tough. He is still my friend to this day, living in San Diego. My partner and I, see him and his partner a couple of times each year. I was lucky in the sense that I met my partner shortly after all that happened. I was 17 and he just turned 20. 14 years later and we are still together.
But, so far, my story has a happy ending. There are way too many kids who don’t get to experience a happy ending like mine. Some are physically attacked, to the point they lose their lives, like Matthew Shepherd. Some are taunted and bullied to the point they take their own life. Some are able navigate their way through the bullying of high school, only to stop for a bite to eat, steps away from the sanctity of one of our nightclubs, and are brutally attacked for no other reason than the attacker demonstrating the hatred inside him.
Hate has become far to rampant in our society, in our schools, and for our youth while they are online and in their daily lives. We make videos about it getting better, have schools talk about the dangers of bullying to their students, and have lawmakers pass laws to protect sexual orientation and soon to include gender identity and expression. These laws are passed so that crimes committed against those in our community, for no other reason than we are ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘queer’ or a ‘faggot’ or ‘freak’, are prosecuted as they should be, as a HATE CRIME.
We stand united as a community, with strength in numbers and proclaim our right to equality and our right to love whom we are destined to. And we celebrate the PRIDE within ourselves everyday and every year. We gain support of our straight allies. We educate and share our experiences. Yet all the progress and strides we make towards equality, and we still have to deal with the bullies. We have to deal with the hate. We have to deal with those that wish us harm. We have to deal with those that bruise us, that make us bleed, that make us realize that we still don’t have full equality.
It is getting better. I know it will continue to get better. I am given hope when I talk to organizers of GSA groups in high schools, something I would have loved when I was in school. I am given hope when I see us come together to celebrate our PRIDE. I am given hope when I see our community banding together when any one of us face intolerance and hate. I am inspired by those who speak here today. I am inspired by those in our community that organize and run the groups and organizations that benefit so many in our community.
To those that hate us, I say this: We are your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your teachers, your policeman, your congressman, and your workers. We are your neighbors, we give you change, we entertain you, serve your food, decorate your houses and yes, even plan your weddings, when we can’t legally be married in all 50 states. We are everywhere. There is no getting rid of us. You can’t sweep us under the rug or dismiss our love with the hatred rolling past your lips. We are here to stay and we are not the ones who need to change. Your approval is not required, but we will take you acceptance. Accept the fact that we are not going away. Accept the fact that we are in every community, every city, every state and every country.
We may have started our movement back in the 60’s and it has taken quite a while to get where we are, but our time is now. We will see marriage equality. We will see full equality in all matters governed by civil law. And in time, when those in the future look back at this time in our country, they will wonder why there was so much hate. Why those in our society felt the need to damn us, hurt us, and work against us. We are the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, the transgendered, the fags, the lezbos, the trannies, the freaks, the weirdos, and the queers…and we are damn proud of it. Thank you.