I’m Eric Schroekenthaler and I’m from Plover, Wisconsin.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I had come out and early in my senior year of high school, an acquaintance of mine who I ate lunch with every day the previous year had posted a really vulgar comment on on Facebook.
“Sorry, gays. Assholes are for shitting and pussies are for fucking. Get over it.”
I, without really thinking about it, commented on that post that that’s a very vulgar message and something that he should think twice before propagating out in the world in a super public forum. Unfortunately, that message, that gentle prodding wasn’t well received and I got major pushback with this comment thread that sort of spiraled out of control.
People were commenting all sorts of narratives from “gay people should all be exiled to an island to live in isolation” to religious notes of “lock them all in a church and burn it down” and wishing for a figure such as Hitler to return because another genocide was needed. The comments were hateful and harmful to the point where there were a couple nights that week that I didn’t sleep. I had no appetite. I was having difficulty paying attention in school.
It was hard for me to believe that I’d just taken this big step to be out and here I was being met by my peers, just really hateful, not just to me but to the whole, to the communities that I had just professed my belonging to. Things got so bad that people started reaching out to my school district and to my school, to both the principal and the superintendent and, I’m sure, other staff members as well. Eventually there were folks from over two dozen states and six European countries that had emailed the school district telling them that, you know, this is happening, there’s posts during school hours, this is negatively impacting your students.
It went from these moments of feeling so alone in that space and feeling like I was standing by myself, not having much peer support, standing against several other people, feeling super attacked, to having this outpouring of the community that I didn’t necessarily know that I had or existed, that really showed up for me in a way that I never imagined.
So eventually, both the school stepped in and the main aggressors had conversations and eventually the post was taken down off of Facebook, which is rather anticlimactic. This whole big thing and this outpouring of support ends with no real disciplinary action and with this – the silent removal of a post by Facebook.
Immediately after this kind of anticlimactic end where I had this community in full force behind me, where this post was taken down and things seemed to simmer off a little bit, I was emboldened in some of the work that I’d already been doing and really able to start living more freely and outly. That ordeal had forced me to open up and stand up for myself and had also given me this – or shown me this community that stood behind me. And it gave me this feeling that anything was possible.
That’s not unique to me. There’s people all across this globe who are willing to stand up for all of the LGBTQ+ people that exist. And that story and that message that we’re not alone is really important to me because I reflect on it. It powers me to this day.