“I Thought You Were Better Than That.” High School Bully Learns Invaluable Lesson From Friend.

by joseph barden

My name is Joseph Barden and I’m from Richmond, Virginia. And I was a freshman in high school and I was very happy, because I was lucky enough to be sitting with a bunch of upper classmen girls. And there were three of us there – me, a friend of mine named Johnetta and a friend of mine named Bridget.

And a friend of theirs passed by us and his name was David. And David was the out gay guy from our high school. David was very flamboyant to put it mildly. David was the kind of guy to wear Daisy Dukes to school and ultra tight shirts. He’s one of those guy we used to say, “He’s in the crystal closet.” You didn’t have to ask – you could just see right in. And that was David.

And David had come by to talk to Johnetta and Bridget and he then left. And as he left, I came up, or I might have already been there. But I said, “Oh my god! He’s just so disgusting!” And my friend Johnetta looked at me and she said, “What did you say?” And I said, “He’s so disgusting. The way he acts. The way he just prances. It’s just uncalled for.” And she looked at me and she said, “Wow, Joseph. I thought you were better than that.”

And to have someone who I respected and who I’d only known for a short period of time but had become a good friend of mine too – the look of hurt and disappointment in her face – really showed me that this casual homophobia that I had been cultivating, it’s not cool, it doesn’t need to be done, and you don’t need to have friends or to maintain friends. And that’s really powerful. And you recognize that, having gone through that, it makes you realize that often times the people that are the most virulently homophobic are the ones that are trying to hide something about themselves.

Even though I was a freshman in high school, I knew I was gay at the time. I’d known for quite a bit of time that I was gay. It was all part of a – I don’t know, I guess I knew earlier on when I was in middle school and kind of starting to figure out what would be my story – that it was always far easier to make fun of gay kids and gay adults. It would always get a good laugh And I guess subconsciously that people wouldn’t think that maybe I was one of those people, too.

Later on, after I reflected on what Johnetta said to me, I figured out that I don’t need to do that. I promised myself from that point on that I wouldn’t make fun of anybody for being gay as a way of trying to hide who I am and trying to cover who I really am.

If you’re dealing with those feelings, you just have to accept them and deal with them. And making other people miserable because you feel that you might become more miserable if people knew is really cowardly. You end up spreading hurt in a way that people don’t deserve and that you have no right to impose. I would hope that people would use me as a cautionary tale because I think eventually that no matter who you are, you’ll get it. And you’ll be ashamed. So the earlier you can kind of change that, the better.

And this isn’t just for gay people or for trans people or whomever. It’s just a good thing for us to do as humans.



  1. I am Johnetta’s mother, she recently passed and one of the thing I learned from her friends were the countless stories of her compassion. I knew my daughter always fought for the underdog on a regular basis. However, it has been a pleasure to hear countless stories of how she was so vocal when others would not say a word. I am glad she challenged you, she challenged me on a regular basis on my views on people being homosexual too. I was always slightly in awe of my daughter she was so smart and sometimes she made me feel so dumb when she broke things down for me. I am glad she was a part of your life and I am glad you told your story.

    Peace and love,
    Brenda Hughes

    • Hi, Brenda. I reprinted Joseph’s story, and the effect your daughter’s words had on him, on our website. Thought you might like to know that we hope her words will continue to have a ripple effect.

      Thank you for a strong girl and Joseph, thank you for having the strength to listen.

      JJ Vincent
      Executive Editor
      The Good Men Project.

    • Ms. Hughes, thank you for bringing a beacon of light into the world and deepest sympathy for your loss.

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