Windy City LIVE Senior Producer Hank Mendheim, who is openly gay, recently spoke about being bullied during a special episode of the show that focused on bullying.
Windy City Times was in attendance for the taping, where expert Karin Stortz spoke about ways to prevent and deal with the current issue. Hosts Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini answered questions and witnessed testimonies from the audience.
Backstage, Mendheim talked some more with WCT about his story.
Windy City Times: Hello, Hank. What inspired you to approach this topic on Windy City LIVE?
Hank Mendheim: I saw Lady Gaga talking about it on OWN and literally came in the next day to put a date on the calendar. We had been talking about it, so I was ready to do it. We picked this date because we knew the movie Bully was opening. We knew people would get a chance to see it and there would be a lot of press around that.
WCT: What is your background?
HM: I was born and raised in New Orleans. I am a Southern boy. I have literally worked and lived all over the country. I went to school in Mobile, Ala. It was a very small school. My first job in television was in Alabama and then I went to New York doing a ton of things for NBC. This was all producing so I have never done on camera work so this is the first time. It is a transition.
WCT: Being from the South and now living in the North, do you think bullying happens more in certain regions?
HM: My only bullying experiences come from the South. We were talking about it today that the bullying experience in small-town America is probably much different than it is in big cities.
In the movie Bully, there are scenes with children on buses. In Chicago many kids are not on buses. They are taking the trains or walking to school so I think it is a different experience. Out in the suburbs it is a different story, though.
WCT: You mentioned you that you received a piece of hate mail where you were picked on for being gay on the show today. How does that affect you?
HM: I can look at it now and laugh about it because I know who I am and what I do. It is a form of bullying. I am not going to let it define me. I won't let it affect me but I put it on my bulletin board because I am not going to forget it. I am not going to let it bother me or dwell upon it though. Twenty years ago it would have really bothered me. Because I am comfortable now being a gay man and being an on-air personality, I just roll with it.
WCT: Did you respond to it?
HM: There was no way to respond. They didn't sign it and there was no address. I didn't want to respond and give them too much credit.
WCT: Sometimes they are going for a reaction so you didn't give them one and they have no power of you.
WCT: What was the biggest goal of the show today?
HM: To reach those kids and their parents who are in similar situations as our guests were today. Bully the movie really raised awareness into the forefront of the media. What it didn't do was to provide answers. It's not its job to do this so we tried to. Our goal was to provide some of those answers and guide people to find answers. I think we were pretty successful today.
WCT: What did you think of the movie Bully overall?
HM: You know, it was really hard for me to sit through that movie. The only reason I went was because we were doing the show today. I understand those kids. I know what they are going through. One of the girls in it is bullied so much that she steals her mother's handgun and brandishes the gun on the school bus. She wanted to scare everyone, not realizing that she is committing 20 felonies in the process. I don't condone what she did but I completely understand where she was when she got to that point. When you are bullied you all get to that point. I can see where these young kids are pushed to the edge.
I would be lying to say that suicide never crossed my mind when I was kid. It absolutely did. For me, I knew that wasn't the way out. I knew I would get over this. As cliché as it is, I knew it would get better.
WCT: Has it gotten better?
HM: Absolutely. For me it was all about being gay. When you are in the closet you are scared how the world will react to you. I think for the majority of people when you come out then you realize that no one cares. "We love you for you and we don't care that you are gay." I have had that experience from friends and families.
I went to my 20-year high school reunion. I saw the people I wanted to see and the people I didn't care about I ignored because I am an adult and can do that now.
WCT: I think we were raised to not tell our parents something was wrong. We wanted to be the perfect popular kid in school.
HM: I think it is so much worse today because we didn't have Twitter and Facebook. We didn't even have e-mail. I have to monitor our Facebook page everyday now with the show. Sometimes I am absolutely appalled about what people will write on our Facebook pages. I have told people that I don't mind being criticized but there is a constructive way to do it and there's a mean way to do it. It amazes me what people will though out there because they can.
WCT: When we were kids we would get home and the bullying would stop now it's a different story.
HM: It is around the clock now. Cyberbullying is worse than what happens at school these days. They can't escape it. Even if it is deleted then it stays forever.
WCT: There is a lot of adult bullying going on also, whether someone is overweight or too skinny or whatever.
HM: That is one thing our executive producer ingrained in us. There are people being bullied whether they are anorexic or their hair was different. We really tried to keep that in mind that this was a variety of issues. Hopefully we conveyed that today.
For sources on where to go if you are bullied or if you missed this episode, visit www.windycitylive.com .