When I was 12 and in seventh grade, I told my three best friends that I wanted to marry a girl when I grew up. We were all stumbling into puberty at that point, and while I didn’t have much interest in boys, I had already realized that some girls were very pretty, and I really wanted to kiss one. I was also a really logical kid and I figured that living with a woman would be more pleasant, generally speaking, than living with a man (as anyone who has had to tidy up piles of boxers from the floor can attest).

Two of my friends thought it was a little weird, but overall, they were pretty OK with it. The third posted to a public internet platform (AIM chat, which is what we had in 2005): “Victoria, don’t be a homo.” She passed me a note, in a journal the four of us shared, in which she said that gay marriage was “gross – go die in a hole (Victoria)”.

The next day when I got to school, people kept asking me questions. Was it true? Was I gay? Did I really like girls? Ew. Gross. Weird. If I think about it too much, I remember the nausea, the way my neck prickled hot and cold, the way I had to leave school early and cry in the nurse’s office. So I try not to think about it too much.

I’ve had to think about it recently, because on my news feed were two stories that go together: Our governor, Paul LePage, signed on to a friend of the court brief asking the Supreme Court to allow companies to fire workers based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and in Colorado, news broke that a 9-year-old boy had killed himself because other children at his school had bullied him for coming out as gay.

Children can be thoughtlessly cruel. I wonder what they said to that fourth-grader. “Don’t be a homo”? “Go die in a hole”?

Adults model behavior for children. When we do things like argue that it should be legal for employers to fire their workers because they don’t like that the employee is gay, or transgender, or bisexual, we send children the message that there is something wrong and gross with being anything other than strictly heterosexual, and that deviating from rigid blue-pink gender boxes is something to be punished.

I’m sure Gov. LePage has his reasons. But what he is doing is telling 12-year-old Victorias all over the state that there is something wrong with being gay. “Don’t be a homo.” You might lose your job, after all.

I was – and still am – very lucky. The bullying was never physical. I ended up going to a good high school, where I felt safe coming out. I have a family who has always loved and supported me; when I came out to my parents as gay, my father immediately dragged me to a Pride parade. I have loved men and I have loved women; nothing that anyone says will ever convince me that there is something inherently wrong with that.

A few weeks ago, I was up in Presque Isle for a funeral. At the reception, I got talking to a sweet older couple – they had been married for over 60 years, and attended a peace rally every single week. I mentioned my girlfriend in passing, and the woman smiled, tilted her head and said, “That’s unhealthy for you.”

I thought maybe she was talking about my heaping plate of cookies. “What?”

“Homosexual acts. It’s not natural, it’s bad for your body.”

I just stared, with no idea how to respond. I thought about pointing out that homosexual acts, unlike heterosexual ones, had never given me a urinary tract infection. I decided not to cause a scene at a funeral and just ate the rest of my cookies.

Now, I don’t care what this lady thinks about me. But there is a good chance she was someone’s grandmother, and I am scared for the kid who has his sweet, loving grandmother bake him cookies and tell him that being gay is bad and wrong and unhealthy for you. She may say it with love. She may say it with the fog of heavenly righteousness around her, but it is poison.

I don’t blame my ex-friend for saying those things about me. I do blame the adults in her life for teaching her, both directly and indirectly, that bullying, name-calling, stigmatization and general homophobia were OK, and that wanting to marry another girl was not OK.

We have to be careful of what we teach our children in our words and our deeds. I wonder, if Paul LePage ends up with a gay grandchild, how will he explain his actions?

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @mainemillennial