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Friday, January 30, 2004

A True Hero

I saw a true hero on television this morning. Justin Gregorich is a kid who saved someone's life on his way home from school this week. But there is much more to the story than that. So much more.

Justin was leaving school early because he was discouraged. He was being teased by the other kids because he couldn't bench press as much weight as they could. In addition to that, he has Tourette's Syndrome, which causes his face to twitch. So, tired of the teasing, he left school. Normally, he would call his mom for a ride, but that day he decided to walk so he could think things through. And that's when he saw the car veer across the road and right into a pond. He dove into the water and helped save the driver's life.

I watched Justin being interviewed this morning by Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show, and to say I was touched by Justin's interview would be an understatement. I was so moved by Justin's kind spirit, courtesy and humility. When his interview concluded, I turned the television off and sat there weeping. It is a beautiful thing when a kid like Justin, who battles teasing and the stigma of "being different", fights back with courage and simply doing the right thing. It is so easy to respond to cruelty and injustice with anger. The temptation to just give up and believe the bullies may be right after all is strong. But Justin responded by becoming a hero.

Justin said that some kids at school are still unkind to him after his heroic rescue, yet he responds with an inspiring purity of heart. "That's life," he says. When he spoke, I knew that whoever raised this kid is a beautiful person and should be very proud. And I hope Justin knows that he is a hero not just because of what he did this week, but because of who he is. He inspired me, and I live thousands of miles away from him. The impact this young man can have on others is powerful, and he needs to know that.

Justin lives in Florida, a state that has been on my mind a lot lately since gay adoptions were recently banned there. I wonder why it is so hard for some people to understand that a person's sexuality has nothing to do with how much love they have to give a child. Justin Gregorich may have a long road ahead of him. He may be teased for being different, but he will survive and go on to do great things. I firmly believe this.

The tragedy is that some of us grow up being different and endure cruel childhood bullies. We are then disappointed to realize the battle is not over as we are bullied politically when we become adults. We aren't allowed to marry the person we love. In some places we can't even adopt the children we love and care for. But, like Justin, we can still do the right thing. We have the choice of becoming angry and bitter, or we can stand up for ourselves and act like the true heroes we are. Personally, I want to be like Justin.

Not knowing how to reach Justin, I sent a letter to the reporter in St. Petersburg who covered the story. She has promised to pass my message on to Justin and his family. I would be so proud to have a kid like Justin, and I know many other gay men and women who feel the same way. I hope someday we will have that honor.

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