Friday, March 19, 2010

An All-Too-Common Story - But This Time With a Good Ending

Link to Video on ABC News:

NEW HOPE, Pa. - March 17, 2010 (WPVI) -- When a local high school student made the decision to be open about his sexuality, his life changed, and not for the better.

15-year-old Joey Kemerling says he was always well liked in school.

"I fit in fairly well, I was friends with most kids," he said.

But in 8th grade, Joey told his friends he was gay.

"I was normal for a while and I said one little thing about myself and the entire world changed, I lost all my friends," Joey said.

Joey says one kid pulled a knife on him, another threatened his life; the bullying became so bad, Joey fell into a deep depression.

"I felt all alone and there were times when I didn't want to live anymore," he said.

But while Joey endured daily attacks at school, he realized he wasn't the only victim.

"I noticed a lot of other types of bullying, there was a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of bullying against kids because they dressed differently, talked differently," Joey said.

On the advice of school counselors, Joey decided to fight back.

His weapon?


Joey created a page called the Equality Project. An online safe-zone where kids from as close as Bucks County and as far away as Egypt can share their stories and fears about all kinds of bullying and intimidation.

"So now everyday when I come home and I can read the stories, I can know that I'm not alone and there are other kids going through this and it helps a lot," he said.

Joey's mom, Joyce Mundy, who is also a principal of a nearby middle school, says the Equality Project has offered students something most schools have not.

"He has opened up dialogue among students of his school who he never would have had this conversation with," Joyce said.

Carrie Jacobs, executive director of the Attic, a Philadelphia based youth center for LGBT teens, says Joey's Facebook page is a safe haven for young adults who may not be able to find the support they need at home, school or even traditional support group.

"A website like this would offer an opportunity for kids who may be ashamed of who they are talk about the bullying they may be experiencing," Carrie said.

Although Joey's struggles with bullying may revolve around his sexuality, not all of the 4,000 members of the page are gay, but many of them easily relate to the pain caused by vicious words and overwhelming feelings of alienation.

"I was teased a lot as a child about being overweight; it really helps me to know that we every one feels that and that's really sad, but we can all use it to heal," Joey's friend Maddie Reilly said.

"It makes me feel like I can go online, I can share my story and someone is going to care about me," Joey's sister Jamie said.

"If I didn't have Facebook or a computer, I probably wouldn't be here today," Joey said.

Joey makes it very clear on the Facebook page that he is not a professional nor should any person confuse this page as a source of professional help. If you or someone you know is truly struggling with depression seek professional help.

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