Pick: Kids Learn About Gays or Kids Kill Themselves

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Ever since people first started talking about homosexuality, children have been used to support the fear and demonization of gay people. The message has only become slightly diluted over the past few decades.

Gays are pedophiles (the Catholic Church still thinks so). (Also still: Trans women are just men who want to molest little girls in the bathroom.) Gays want to kidnap kids. Gays want to recruit kids. Gays want to teach kids to be gay. Gays want to teach kids about gay sex. Gays want to teach kids about gay marriage. Gays want to teach kids that gay people exist.

Now, the last two don’t sound so bad, but they are always presented in a way to insinuate the old language. The message is the same: gays are evil and our kids are at risk. We’ve got to protect them!

Today we learned about a number of teenage suicides that were fomented by anti-gay bullying. Justin Aaberg of Minnesota hung himself in July. Billy Lucas of Indiana hung himself just last week. Both were 15. (Hat tip to Towleroad for reporting on each: here and here.)

It seems that students were relentless at tormenting Billy Lucas while teachers and administrators were oblivious.

According to WTHR:

Friends of Lucas say that he had been tormented for years.

“Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself.

“He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,” Hughes said.

According to WXIN:

Students told Fox59 News it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy’s mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself.

“They said stuff like ‘you’re like a piece of crap’ and ‘you don’t deserve to live.’ Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever,” said Swango.

Principal Phil Chapple doesn’t deny that students are bullied in the high school, but he said he didn’t know Billy was one of the victims.

“We were not aware of that situation,” said Chapple.

The case of Justin Aaberg reveals how school teachers can be so oblivious to gay bullying: because they’re instructed to.

As reported by WCCO, The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a policy that reads:

Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.

How horrid is that? A school refuses to teach about a natural part of human diversity and leaves it to the community to continue reinforcing all the negative messages that aren’t based on truth.

And will the school change its curriculum policy? No.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District said the curriculum policy and bullying are two entirely separate issues.

“It’s very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral,” said District Spokeswoman Mary Olson.

Remain neutral. A kid was harassed to such an extent that he didn’t think his life was worth living and teachers have to remain neutral to “respect families.”

Read it again. That is the world we live in. That is enshrined homophobia. That is a policy that represents fear motivated by demonization.

Incidentally, GLSEN today published the key findings of its 2009 National School Climate Survey. Here are some chilling numbers for you:

84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.

Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

That’s last year. Not 1985; 2009. It makes me ill just thinking about it. And what did the study find worked at helping reducing these numbers? In addition to having a GSA,

The presence of supportive staff contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.

Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.

But unfortunately:

Despite the positive benefits of these interventions, less than a half of LGBT students (44.6%) reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, slightly more than half (53.4%) could identify six or more supportive educators and less than a fifth (18.2%) attended a school that had a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.

What’s worse, we know that these numbers translate into higher education as well. A new study, “State of Higher Education for LGBT People” is being released this month that shows young people continue to experience harassment for sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression on our college campuses.

83% of LGBT college students reported experiencing harassment for their sexual identity, with numbers even higher for students who were trans-identified. In fact, 87% of trans-masculine identified individuals reported experience harassment for their gender expression with 82% of trans-feminine identified individuals reporting similar harassment.

The problem here is that our schools aren’t educating. We aren’t willing to talk about what we know. Gender and sexuality are a part of who humans are, but we refuse to dispense uniform informed information to our young people. Out of “respect,” we prefer to let stereotypes and fear persist.

This is a crime against our society, and the deaths of Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg rest on the shoulders of groups like Focus on the Family who insist that sexual orientation not be taught in our schools.

So you get to pick. Do we teach kids about the realities of the world or do we sustain the ignorance that drains them of all meaning to live?

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There are 10 Comments to "Pick: Kids Learn About Gays or Kids Kill Themselves"

  • Sarah says:

    Such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.

    My baby sister was raised in our conservative Christian home, and taught at church that homosexuality was a sin, something one could overcome with God’s help. Sex in general was a taboo topic in our home – our parents’ mismatched libidos had ruined their sex life and sex was frowned upon when mentioned in tv and movies. We were each given purity rings and told we could either give the ring to our husband when he came along, or back to our mom, facing her shame and disappointment if we failed to wait for the one.

    In love with a girl, filled with self-hatred and despair, my sister planned her suicide at age 16 without intending to tell anyone why. She claims in the moments before she pulled the shotgun trigger, she heard a clear voice saying “tell your mom.”

    Our mom loves her daughters more than anything, and does her best to show love. In the context of what she learned at church, and without any confident, amazing gay people in her rural social circle, a gay daughter was an unthinkable reality. My sister knew confessing her attractions and torments would not go over well.

    I don’t know how she had the guts, but she managed to admit her pain through sobs to my mom, who asked if that was what she really wanted, and hugged her and comforted her. I am relieved my mom was kind enough in that difficult time.

    I didn’t know any of this until years later, and looking back I feel so frustrated with my mom. I was off at college, a liberal arts place. As a music major, I had a front row seat to about 25 coming out dramas each year. The ones with the families who would never support them agonized over their identities, desperately trying to justify their attractions.

    Still, the college community was welcoming and supportive of all, and it was a great place to be yourself and come out. I think I could identify with the homosexual identity crisis because I was having a religious identity crisis (trying to reconcile the way I was raised with what I was learning at college). I made some amazing friends (and hopefully not just because they were flocking to the diva soprano).

    My best friend told me a different story – when he was a teenager, his parents sat him down and told him they would love anyone, male or female, he chose to love. He didn’t come out for years, but I love them for recognizing the truth and giving him unconditional support. Admittedly they are both music teachers and have more worldly experience than many parents.

    Around the time my sister came out to my mom, my best friend got married in his Lutheran church, surrounded by friends and family, serenaded by a 60-voice choir, 10-member brass choir and pipe organ. My mom was invited. She loves these guys, my best friends. She wrote them a letter, with the counsel of her pastor, explaining why she couldn’t attend the wedding and why they were outside God’s will. I thought it was terrible enough before I knew she was dealing with the same questions about her own daughter. Fortunately I could stand up for him as a “groomsmaid”, thrilled he’d found a great partner. Her foolishness was drowned out by the beauty of his wedding and marriage.

    My sister is in college now, in denial about her sexuality, trying to convince herself that she just hasn’t met the right guy yet and that’s why she’s always been single. She came out to me this summer, and I ripped off my best friend’s parents’ line about loving her and whomever she chose to love. I also told her about the waves of young people coming out in college, and how I realized no one would ever put themselves and their families through the pain and alienation unless it was absolutely necessary.

    When I met my best friend, I developed an insane crush on him. He wasn’t out yet, but it was pretty obvious he would be soon. I was completely helpless – I couldn’t wait to see him, I was shocked by the intensity of my crush. Eventually he let me down and our friendship developed. I am so glad I was so drawn to him and my hormones compelled me to nail his friendship down. My little sister needed to know some confident, loving gay guys, and not just what she knew in small town MN.

    All of that is to say, yes – let’s respect the truth about gender and sexuality at school. Parents, churches, and community organizations do not deserve our respect by default.

  • Ahab says:

    This has to stop. Too many young people are suffering (and committing suicide) in silence because those around them refuse to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to talk openly about LGBT issues in this country, and we need to support LGBT kids so that tragedies like these stop.

  • Kate says:

    The stats that are noted make me wonder about students who do not identify as LGBT(QAI) who also experience harassment or assault. After all, when people are bullied, it’s not because of their orientation, it’s because of their perceived orientation… which tends to be based on their gender expression. Perfectly plausible to have someone heterosexual being harassed as if s/he is homosexual or bisexual.

    • ZackFord says:

      Kate, I totally agree, but worry it might even be worse than that. I don’t think it requires that someone even be perceived a certain way to be put down for their SO/GI/GE. Someone could be “gay” for being nerdy, unathletic, goth, shy, sensitive, butch, awkward, unpopular, or even for having a disability. This kind of harassment could very well be a catch-all for any kind of desire to put someone down.

      • Kate says:

        Zachford, I think you’re talking about bullying by using the term “gay” (or similar) to mean some unspecified bad thing. And I agree, this is unacceptable. I mean, that’s how it worked when I was in high school. “That’s so gay” was liberally applied to stupid ideas, inept physical maneuvers (like tripping up the stairs) and edicts that the person receiving didn’t like.

        To me, this indicates all the more reason to have stats on kids who are bullied for “being gay” who don’t identify that way.

        Wait… are we just arguing the exact same thing?

        • ZackFord says:

          Haha, I didn’t even think we’re arguing, but I’ll clarify my point.

          I think you’re right that “that’s so gay” is too commonly used, but what I worry is that people so misunderstand the concept of sexual orientation that they actually believe that anybody they see as different really is “gay,” whatever that means in their head.

          That’s why I think the most telling stat is how many of them heard anti-gay language. Sure, the kids who ARE gay will be more sensitive to hearing things, but if all students hear that kind of language, it shows just how prevalent and widespread the problem is, thanks only to enforced ignorance.

          • Kate says:

            Ah, yes. That is a good point. Gay might mean anything to someone using the term as a general epithet. And of course, taken in any number of ways by those people hearing the slurs.

            And in this case, ‘arguing’ had only positive connotations for me.

          • Kate says:

            It would be interesting to survey high schoolers and ask them for definitions for “gay”, “sexual orientation”, “faggot”, “trans” etc. I betcha almost the only kids who have definitions close to true are those who identify as one or some of the terms.

          • ZackFord says:

            That would probably be a very interesting and depressing study and your suspicions would be correct.

  • Buffy says:

    We don’t even know if Billy was gay, and it really doesn’t matter. Homophobic bullying hurts everyone.

    It makes me sick that the bigots spew that bull about anti-bullying programs “promoting homosexuality”. They can’t stand the notion of LGBT people having any protections or rights, and use that ‘promoting homosexuality” crap every chance they get. Funny how they never see their rights and protections as “promoting heterosexuality” or “promoting Christianity”. They’re sick, hateful, depraved bigots with an ever increasing body count in their wake.

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