Becoming Part of the Solution

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou

Becoming Part of the Solution

Image by Ashely Barli from Pixabay 



 “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”  


-Maya Angelou


I find these words to be powerful for two reasons. First, they help us have self-compassion for our past mistakes with an understanding that we may not have been able to do better at the time. 

Secondly, they are a directive to take accountability and become part of a solution.  

As a therapist, I use this quote by Ms. Angelou to encourage clients to forgive themselves for poor choices made in the past while inspiring them to “do better” in the present. These words have also helped me personally, as I reflect upon my history of making changes to stop perpetuating anti-gay and anti-transgender messages and instead become part of the solution.  

In the late 1980s, when I was attending junior high school in the Midwest, a boy in my class was brave enough to stand apart from the crowd in his self-expression. Rather than the typical clothes worn by our peers, he chose to wear gender-fluid clothing and even eyeliner instead. He would be referred to as “emo” today and as “alternative” back then. 

Most people assumed that his appearance meant that he was gay. So, he was bullied for his unique self-expression: called hurtful names, laughed at, and ultimately even physically attacked. 

The principal called him and his mother into the office but unfortunately blamed the victim. The principal said if he dresses in such ways and wears makeup to school, he is inciting violence and “asking” for abuse. The principal asked that he conform to a “normal” gender expectation or transfer to a different school. Not compromising his self-expression, he and his mother chose for him to transfer.    

At the time, I was questioning my sexual orientation and was terrified my peers would learn my secret. As I heard the horrible things people said to this boy, I did not defend him. Worse, I joined in the laughter, no matter how awful it felt inside. It was a way for me to stay hidden – to stay safe. I did not witness the physical attack, but I certainly heard about it and how the administration blamed the boy for it. The awful message that I received was that if I honestly expressed myself in my unique differences, I would also be bullied, violently attacked, and maybe even kicked out of school. So I went deep into the metaphorical closet and did not emerge from it for many years.  

Ultimately, my journey led not only to me coming out as a gay man but to a career of standing up for other such youth and helping the allies in their lives learn how to provide affirming support for them. 

As Maya Angelou’s forgiving words attest, I couldn’t do it back then, but I can now. I’ve often thought of the boy over the years, regretting being part of the problem rather than the solution back then. So I wanted to apologize to him for it somehow. 

Thankfully, I had an opportunity to do so this past week. 

Classmates posted about a reunion on social media. In the comments, he responded. The pain and trauma that he endured were evident. This brave boy had grown into a brave man, and he took this opportunity to call out his bullies. He informed our classmates that he is happily married to a beautiful woman and that they have children. His history was an example of how people bully LGBTQ+ kids and those perceived to be.

I took the opportunity to commend his strength then and now. I explained I was too scared at that age for peers to know I might be gay and apologized for laughing at him along with the others. I told him how I had dedicated my professional career to helping other kids who might be going through something similar to what he or I went through.

Then, a fantastic thing happened. One of the guys who bullied him added his apology to the comments, writing that he, too, felt regret about the boy he frequently bullied. 

He asked for forgiveness on behalf of himself and the others. Like me, others took the opportunity to own up to their actions, apologize for them, and strive to do better. Several people wrote about how they are now teaching their children to celebrate different people rather than ridicule them for it. 

Perhaps you, too, are interested in learning more about becoming part of the solution by creating safe spaces for LGBTQ teens – and for those who are perceived to be – to have the freedom to express their unique selves? I encourage you to do so! Let’s all be a part of the solution together!   



If you are a youth or young adult experiencing bullying related to how others perceive your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, please contact the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or visit for 24/7 support through talk, text, or chat.