Q: It's been so upsetting to the queer kids at my middle school to hear about all the teen suicides lately and the awful bullying going on. One guy I know got punched in the face recently and his Facebook page was smeared with homophobic comments like "faggot." What can we do to help our friends?
A: It's really admirable that you want to reach out to other kids in trouble. This recent series of high-publicity gay teen suicides has lots of people asking that same question: "What can we do?" And while the answers at first feel overwhelming, my advice in this situation is quite clear: It's everyone's responsibility to help fight public and private expressions of homophobia and transphobia, especially when violence is involved or could be anticipated.
The truth is that you and your friends may already be doing the two most important things: being yourselves and supporting each other. But there's always more.
In the case of your friend who was punched, you could certainly help him if you suggested that he talk to his parents or school officials about reporting that assault —yes, he was assaulted. I know that can be hard to do, but you can't stop bullying unless he (or she) is called on it.
That Facebook mess is an example of how "direct" confrontation has its place. Without saying anything threatening or targeting individuals by name, go ahead and post some supportive messages on the guy's page. Make sure that lots of your friends do that too. You can also report the individuals making the hateful comments to Facebook, which will cancel their accounts.
Q: On National Coming Out Day, my father told the family that he's gay. To be honest, I didn't know what to say back to him. What would you have suggested?
A: In a dream world, you'd be genuinely happy for your father and shout "Mazel tov" or "Congratulations" and give him a big hug. And it would be but one supportive voice among many, with warm wishes from friends, colleagues and other relatives alike. But if that's not in your heart right now, at the very least I'd suggest you thank your dad for being open and honest with you and tell him that your love for him has not changed. Most LGBT people—yes, even our fathers and mothers—fear rejection more than anything else when they're coming out. By the way, it's not too late to take my advice and speak with your dad.
Q: The other day my friend Stan invited me over for drinks. When I got to his apartment, Barry, who is partnered with my best friend, had just come out of the bedroom wearing a towel. It was really awkward, and Stan was shocked that I know Barry and his partner. Barry and my best friend have been together for years, and their relationship is supposed to be monogamous. Do I tell my friend, yell at Barry—or just keep my mouth shut?
A: Yikes! What's up with Stan that he invited you over while he still had a paramour on the premises?
If you step back from the situation a little, however, you'll realize that the best thing that could happen would be for Barry to let you know that he's going to 'fess up to his partner—so that 1) you don't have to and 2) you won't have to have a guilty conscience about saying nothing to your friend. With any luck, Barry will reach out to you with this plan. But if he doesn't, call him and let him know "what a good idea" you think it would be for him to "do the right thing." Obviously, the implied threat is that if he doesn't speak up, you will, but I wouldn't actually say that.
Still, Barry may call your bluff by not saying anything. Then, I'd fold and sit it out on the sidelines because you're really in a no-win situation. If you turn Barry in, there's the slight possibility that your understanding of their monogamous status was wrong in the first place—or that sharing this information wasn't what your friend would have wanted. Perhaps ignorance may be bliss for him.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that couples often do "kill the messenger" in a charged situation like this. If these two fellows get through this rough patch and back to trusting each other, there's a real possibility they will both view you as interfering or as a troublemaker. In the end, if your friend does find out that you knew about his philandering partner and didn't say anything, tell him the truth: That was Barry's responsibility.