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.
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?