SAN DIEGO – Vincent Pompei knows first-hand about being bullied while attending schools in South Sacramento, Calif.
“I was bullied badly when I was a student, starting all the way back in elementary school. It started in my fifth grade Physical Education class,” Pompei said.
“I knew I was different, but I was trying very hard to keep it a secret. I didn’t want to be rejected by my family, my friends or my church. But I didn’t throw a ball in the most masculine ways. One of the boys yelled, ‘You throw like girl!’ Then others joined in. ‘You’re a queer,’ they said, laughing. ‘You’re gay! You’re gay!’
“I was tormented inside. This was my secret. I never wanted anyone to know. It was clear that I was devastated, but the PE teacher did absolutely nothing and simply said ‘get back to the game.’ After school, I ran home and cried,” he said.
“I had to go to school and face the tormenting day after day, but I didn’t let anyone know or give anyone a clue that what they were saying about me might be true – that’d they’d discovered the secret I’d wanted to keep buried. By high school, the constant bullying led me to extreme depression. My grades dropped, and so did my aspirations,” Pompei said.
“I attempted suicide twice.
“When I recovered and finally came to terms with who I was, I knew I was going to dedicate my life to making sure that no other kids would endure what I endured,” he said.
These days, Pompei wields a national voice on the negative effects of bullying, from his position as chair of the Center For Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership. He has been to the White House and countless other seats of power where he explains the dangers of bullying.
Next week, Pompei and other distinguished speakers will participate in an International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) event that includes a panel discussion following the screening of “Teach Your Children Well.”
GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network), St. Paul’s Foundation, Integrity Circle, San Diego faith communities and school districts will co-sponsor the event from 7:30 to 8:30 pm Monday, May 14, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Ave. in San Diego.
The evening begins with a champagne reception with the filmmakers, director Gary Takesian and executive producer Robin Voss.
Lily Tomlin narrates “Teach Your Children Well,” a 39-minute documentary that looks at homophobia, bullying and school violence.
This is the second of two significant films on anti-LGBT violence and bullying produced by Voss. Her first was “For the Bible Tells Me So.”
Voss once described the church as the “last bastion of ordained prejudice.” She lives with her husband, Bruce, in Newport Beach, Calif., and they have three children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren. She says she has always been a contrarian. Noting that Jesus’ message is one of inclusion and that he champions the marginalized, she knows that if Jesus were here today, he would reach out to anyone discriminated against.
Takesian, who lives in Long Beach, Calif., says his film’s subject matter was one that is dear to his heart.
"As a gay man myself, homophobia issues have always been present for me. And there was a point at which I decided I wanted to do something to bring the issue of homophobia to the screen," Takesian said.
The school shooting of 15-year-old Lawrence King in Oxnard, Calif., inspired Takesian to make a film on bullying. But when he was unable to get people to commit to interviews, he decided to broaden the scope of his movie.
"We decided that rather than tell the Lawrence King story … to use that as a point of departure to talk about the whole issue surrounding school violence, bullying and that those are really caused by homophobia," he said.
Takesian, Voss and Pompei will be joined on the panel discussion by Colin Pearce, co-chair of GLSEN San Diego, and the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation.
GLSEN has been providing educational resources for parents and teachers as well as volunteer opportunities for the community to help prevent the kind of experiences that Pompei described. Pearce will discuss ways that GLSEN San Diego works to address and end bullying, and share volunteer opportunities with the community.
Ogle is president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, based at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, and has been working with 76 countries where it is still illegal to be LGBT. He is hoping to bring representatives of these countries to the World AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July.
“Criminalization also means lack of access to life saving prevention and health services for millions of LGBT people worldwide and religious communities are in the front lines of anti-LGBT rhetoric that often leads to draconian legislation like the Bahati Bill in Uganda,” he said.
Ogle will also show a preview of a new documentary about this largely underground movement. “Call Me Kuchu” (queer in Ugandan slang) is about the life of Ugandan murdered activist David Kato and the impact of global homophobia and LGBT violence.
“In December, the United Nations received its first-ever high level report on anti-LGBT violence. It documents a systemic problem from bullying on American playgrounds to state-sponsored executions of LGBT people in seven countries. The report can be read HERE and is very significant to our discussions as we celebrate International Day against Homophobia in mid-May (IDAHO),” Ogle said.
The IDAHO event is free to the public.
“It is an honor to have these creative and talented filmmakers and activists who are making our schools and our world a safer place, present in San Diego to mark International Day Against Homophobia,” said the Very Rev. Scott Richardson, dean of the cathedral.