Corey, 16, Millburn, NJ

I’ve always been very adult-like. I had different interests than other kids. I did well in school but wasn’t athletic or into sports, and that’s what people talked about. Once I started middle school, the bullying got worse. I wasn’t out as gay in middle school, even to myself, but people suspected. But even if I wasn’t gay, it would have been something else. They’ll find anything. The teachers didn’t do anything to help, so my parents got involved.

In seventh grade, the bullying got so bad. I was so depressed. I planned to kill myself. I told my parents, and I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks. That was really scary. I was home-schooled for the rest of the year. It was kind of difficult, but better than being at the school.

So I transferred to the Hudson School, a small private school with 25 kids in each grade. It’s been a great fit. I haven’t had any problems and everyone is so supportive. I’m president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. For Ally Week we had almost the whole student body participate. It was pretty cool to see.

LGBT activism is an important part of my life now. I’m involved with Garden State Equality. Last year, right after Tyler Clementi committed suicide at Rutgers, an anti-bullying bill was introduced to the legislature. Bullied students testified for the New Jersey State Legislature and shared their experiences. Garden State Equality asked me to testify before the Legislature about my experiences. The bill passed the State Legislature and Governor Christie signed it.

I have the strength to tell my story and be an activist because I know that I’m fighting to make the lives of other people better. I don’t want anyone to have to go through anything remotely as bad as I went through. Garden State Equality announced that I will be a recipient of the Lt. Laurel Hester Prize for Citizen Courage at this year’s Legends Dinner. I’m very proud and happy that I’m able to have such an impact on people’s lives. But I’m a pretty modest guy.

Now that a lot of middle schoolers at my school are aware of what I’m doing, some kids in the younger grades feel comfortable coming to me when they’re being teased or anything. I listen and try to help them out as best as I can. I talk to teachers and administrators on their behalf. It’s a bit of responsibility, but I really enjoy helping people.

I really want to start seeing a shift in culture away from bullying. I know that won’t happen overnight, but I think we need to educate children from a young age that you can be whoever you want to be, and to accept people for who they are.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Millburn, NJ, 2011
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Vigil Tonight in Ridgewood, NJ

Join Garden State Equality in Ridgewood, New Jersey to commemorate Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate posted a webcam video of him having sex with another man.

Corey Bernstein, 15, will be speaking at the event about his experiences with bullying as a gay youth. Corey, who will be profiled on We Are the Youth next month, spoke with us this morning.

All throughout elementary school I was different and didn’t fit in. I was teased and bullied. Once I started middle school it put me at the bottom of the food chain. The bullying got worse. I wasn’t out at this point in my life, even to myself. In 7th grade I was fed up with it. I tried to avoid the situation,” Corey said. “It was just a bad situation for me to be in. I became depressed and came very close to having the same fate as Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown and all those other boys we’re hearing about this month. I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks.

Corey then came out, changed schools and is now using his past experiences to tell other young people not to give up.

For anyone else who is feeling alone and depressed, reach out and you’ll be surprised how many people will help you pull through. Find yourself that one person you can feel safe with. Whether that’s a friend, sibling, teacher. Even The Trevor Project or someone you don’t know. It seems like you’re the only person out there who is gay. But thousands and thousands of people are gay. There are resources.

Join Corey at the vigil tonight at 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and check back next month to learn more about Corey.