When Raul Morin was 15, he sat in front of the class jock in school, “the wrestler, football player, big, beefy guy,” who bullied him for being gay.
“I was the class nerd, the closeted white elephant no one could talk about,” said Morin, now 33.
The bully would write the word “fag” on the back of his shirt, in light pen ink, and Morin would continue the rest of the day unknowingly sporting the insult on his back.
“It certainly didn’t enhance my self-esteem,” said Morin, who is now president of the board of the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus, a community-based organization that has decided to take on bullying as part of a five-year program of children’s productions.
This year’s production is Oliver Button is a Sissy, a musical based on a children’s book targeted to kids ages 5-11. The play, which is meant to be the chorus’ anti-bullying voice, premiered on Feb. 25 at the Coral Gables Congregational Church.
Morin said the musical is about self-acceptance and tolerance.
“We’re talking about potentially breaking gender roles,” he said. “This could make for a better world.”
Anthony Cabrera, the chorus’ artistic director, said he hopes the musical will get parents to start conversations with their children about bullying.
“It’s meant to begin to turn the tide at an early age and teach kids that everyone is different and that it’s OK,” said Anthony Cabrera, the chorus’ artistic director.
Oliver, the title character, is an elementary school boy, who avoids playing sports because he’s not very good but enjoys tap dancing. When the other boys in his school discover he tap dances, they bully him and write, “Oliver Button is a sissy” on a wall. It is not until after Oliver participates in a talent show that the students realize he is very good at tap dancing and change the sign on the wall to read, “Oliver Button is a star.”
Cabrera said his partner, Arnaldo Elguezabal, 43, proposed the anti-bullying initiative after the birth of their daughter, Andrea, now 5.
“Because we had a child, Arnold suggested we plan something specifically for children, and of course in the last few years, the topic of bullying has been prime material for everybody, ” he said.
Cabrera said he understands the toll bullying can take on kids, as he, too, was bullied when he was young.
At 16, five boys approached him after gym class and assaulted him. After washing himself up, Cabrera was late to his next class and was punished with detention. He never told the teacher what had happened because he was embarrassed.
“It was something so embarrassing and so painful that I was not able to tell that story to anyone until I was about 30,” he said.
Cabrera said he has since moved past it and accepted the incident as part of his story.
“It made me stronger, but there’s no reason anyone should experience that,” he said.
Justin Hall, production manager of the chorus, agrees.
He said this new anti-bullying campaign represents a call to action for treating people with respect regardless of race, sexual orientation or financial situation.
“I think it crosses so many borders of just saying ‘be a human being and treat somebody else as a human being,’” Hall said, adding that the chorus came about 20 years ago when the gay community needed a place to congregate and create a bigger presence.
But now that society has become more accepting, he said, the chorus can reach out to a broader audience.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t have to say ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get over it,’ but there’s more of a comfort level now to continue that message and create other messages,” he said. “We are going beyond the umbrella of LGBT rights. We are going on human rights.”
The first spectators of the musical will be the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida, who will participate in an arts and crafts project upon the end of the show. The girls will get an anti-bullying badge and decorate picture frames with any color or stickers ranging from ballerinas to footballs.
“It’s all mixed up in there, and it allows for the kids to pick just the things they find are beautiful, and they don’t have to be gender specific,” said Cabrera. “If we start teaching from an early age that people are different and that we need to appreciate them for their differences, then I think we’ve done it.”