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I don’t understand why so many gay men are mean at events or online. These guys seem to get off on making other people feel badly or just ignore them like they don’t exist. For a community that is supposed to be supportive and inclusive, it often feels like a toxic environment most of the time. With all other great strides toward non-discrimination, why do people make our culture so hostile?

For the past six years, I’ve been writing this column in the hopes that individuals in our community will read these perspectives and decide to make changes in their personal lives, both with how they treat themselves and others. So many people complain about how the gay community doesn’t seem to be a supportive environment even though most of us have experienced extreme social awkwardness, judgement from people in our lives, and fear that we won’t be accepted by others. Unfortunately, many have experienced the discomfort caused by interactions with individuals around us.

I think it’s extremely important to make the distinction between talking about how some people choose to act as compared to describing an entire group of people. Not everyone is aggressive or dismissive, but for many of us, it may seem like it at times. It doesn’t matter if you are in a social environment or engaging online — there are individuals who play games, lash out, feel threatened, or act like jackasses. Some deal with mental, emotional, or physical issues. Others’ issues because of past experiences become so debilitating that it affects many aspects of their lives and creates barriers for them from developing supportive relationships. The trick is to pick out the great ones while dismissing the individuals that make you want to unplug from anything social with gay people.

Unfortunately, our community has two completely divergent stereotypes. The first is that we are comprised of highly attractive, intelligent, dynamic people. Many times, personal experiences support the second perception that we show extremely high levels of insecurity, judgment, lack of social grace, and negative attitudes toward ourselves and others around us. Issues like race, HIV status, economic status, age, and body type support stigma that can separate us and lead into creating snap judgements to treat people disrespectfully.

We don’t have to act like this. There is nothing in our genetic or societal make up that drives us to be mean-spirited. It is all about personal choices about how we choose to treat other people and handle ourselves in a variety of situations. Think about ways that we have control over our interaction with others. It is up to all of us to make changes. Take the next evolutionary step by changing the way we treat people.

Let’s move our culture to a new place of personal acceptance and kindness by challenging ourselves and others to be respectful, compassionate, and friendly. It’s not a difficult concept to understand, but may be tough for some to implement. This change in philosophy takes time to wind through social circles, but if we all stand united, it can work. We have the opportunity to stand together just as we have in the past when struggling for equality. All of us have the ability to have a direct impact on the LGBTQ community right now. Give being nice a chance.