Bailey Brown was the athletic director at Mission Prep High School in San Luis Obispo, along California’s central coast.
When my car, which was parked directly in front of my home, was destroyed with an ice pick and green spray paint one early spring morning in 2012, it in turn nearly destroyed me.
Someone had followed me home, stalked me and laid in wait until I went to bed. When I went to work the next morning, I discovered the damage. It was horrific and the car was totaled.
One month later, persons unknown came to the high school where I was the athletic administrator and spray-painted the entire front of the school with my name, along with very descriptive expletives. These unknown persons also left a clear directive of death threats in a hateful letter at the front doorstep of the school. The letter said that they "were coming for me,” that they were "going to eviscerate me" and that I was "an abomination for working at their school as a lesbian.”
There were more descriptors in that letter, as well as their connection to my car destruction. The FBI was then called to investigate after the news got out.
There were more calculated events that occurred during that 2012-13 year of living dangerously. The details are less important now to me than they were even a year ago, because I know now that I have to move forward and not let this incident define me.
But I am also very clear about the details of the crimes, the repulsion and anger I felt and feel, especially when I lie quietly at night. It's all of this and so much more, that caused me to slip and emotionally fall at the steps of a Catholic school in 2012.
What happened to me turned out to be more than a crime of hatred. Those actions of hate also brought back past feelings of abandonment and deep-seated losses that I've experienced in my long, beautiful life.
When the hate attacks began, I was crippled in my response. I had become a victim. This was an unknown feeling to me and I did not like it at all.
Even as a survivor of an assault from an attack over 40 years ago, I had never felt these feelings of complete lack of action. I had to find out what was causing this "victim" feeling: My fighter mentality that I was so used to in my life was gone. Where was this weakness stemming from?
To describe it for those who have never experienced it, it was a feeling of unworthiness, self-loathing, fear of action. It was pulsating through my day and night and it sickened me. I knew what had happened wasn't my fault. I hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, I was a great leader, a good person.
My friends, I believe, would describe me as "happy, friendly, strong, a breast cancer survivor" and maybe even "funny.” At that point I wasn't that person everyone knew me as; I was not strong, barely a survivor and certainly not a fighter. I was a victim: quiet, subdued and passive. It affected me in ways I couldn't have ever comprehended.
I know now I was attacked for being a lesbian in a Catholic school environment – for being my truest self. But you see, I've never looked at life that way. I just did my job and did it well.
I kept looking for someone, anyone, to rise up and save me. My community, my school, law enforcement. There are great changes coming to our little city, but at the time of the crimes against me, in my opinion, the law enforcement response was not swift nor did it feel urgent. I did feel abandoned by the people whom I had always believed were supposed to save me.
It felt like it wasn’t until the FBI got involved that the local police were more concerned and communicative with me.
I also never heard from my own gay community. There was no community outrage or concern, just the usual party planning for Pride. The system seemed broken and I became very aware what victims must feel like when no one seems to be listening.
These hateful events were horrifying and devastating. I was scared for my life, I was scared for my job. I was scared of the town I lived in, which became instantly smaller. I was outed in a conservative community newspaper. I left my beautiful home out of fear of another attack and couch-surfed with friends, dodging and weaving for over six months. My family of friends were, and remain, my backbone through all of this.
I ended up staying at the job. I hunkered down and kept pushing through, acting tough, as if all was back to perfect. The fighter mentality seeped out as best it could. Eventually though, the effects of the trauma changed me, and I soon left my prized position.
It was becoming clear to me that these homophobic hate attacks stirred in me past assault victimization, abandonment and other emotions of loss. It affected my love relationships and friendships. The attacks made me completely aware of how I have been handling (or not handling) loss and confrontation, and how I've kept waiting for that someone, that hero, to swoop in and save me. It, and they, never came.
It turns out, I needed to save myself.
We all try to stuff down our worst experiences – "life’s baggage" – to exist. Even the most vibrant, creative, amazing people that you meet, they stuff it all down to get by in this world.
It has taken so much work to get to this place of peace, but those hateful attacks have actually helped me realize that I too had stuffed so much into many compartments, for so many years. I was not being transparent, and I certainly was not as authentic as people saw me as.
These hate crimes triggered a much-needed course of healing for me. I have now started to honor my past, the loss of my dear father, my many amazing accomplishments and, lastly, I have finally learned to not seek praise from others as the way of self-fulfillment.
Still, I am not in any way letting the criminals who did this to me off the hook. I am still angry that this happened, and it continues to happen to the innocent people in this world being targeted by the sick and ignorant. I will never allow this hateful and egregious crime to be forgiven, nor have I forgotten. I will use the new healing energy to support anyone I can, myself included, to rise up and fight for the innocent.
Despite what I’ve been through, I wake up every day and have complete faith in the inherent beauty and promise of all people. I want to help them reach down deep and find their own truth. Whatever has kept them frozen in their own fear, it is time to clear it out.
We all have the human right to be our true selves in this world. This is the gift we must hand over to others, so when we do experience trauma, we can act instead of freezing with fear.
I want anyone who has been a victim of harassment or abuse to defend their beautiful human hearts and become the amazing people our friends and family know we are and can be!