This week, a lot of folks are in recovery mode.
Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Cody Barker, Tyler Wilson, Chris Armstrong… the list of recent names is short compared to the many that go unreported. This spate of harassment (and the many suicides that have resulted) should only be alarming to those unaware that such harassment is a quite common occurrence in the lives of young LGBTQ people.
As campuses and communities mourn and grapple to respond to the horror of how young people are being treated, we must also refocus on interventions. To recovery from bullying is not enough. To endure bullying (as the It Gets Better campaign can be interpreted) is not enough. We have to interrupt bullying and we have to counter-balance it with affirmation.
We’re at an impasse where many see bullying as just a “school” problem, while the biggest problem with bullying in our schools is that teachers and administrators are reluctant to intervene. It is important to raise the standard for educating about LGBTQ issues and how school employees are empowered to interrupt bullying, but it is also important to recognize that anti-queer bullying permeates our entire culture.
Students aren’t just bullying against the queer community because they can (and do) get away with it. It’s because they’ve been conditioned to by our entire society.
President Obama is a model for bullying. He could very easily exercise his power as Commander in Chief to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell discharges by Executive Order. Under his watch, well over 500 individuals have been discharged simply for their sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter how many nice things he says, because his actions (or lack thereof) still reinforce the idea that people can be treated as less than for being gay. How can we expect our young people to understand that anti-gay bullying is wrong when our own President isn’t even a good model?
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This gem, along with many less subtle remarks, reinforces bullying across many prominent religious identities. The Mormon Church just reminded us that they’re still anti-gay, as Catholics and evangelical Christians do weekly if not daily. Christianity is by no means alone in demonizing the queer community, but certainly represent the most prominent voice in the US. To refer to a person’s identity as sin is to encourage shame upon that person. Beliefs be damned; sexual orientation is not a choice, and to treat it as something that is wrong or needs fixed severely hurts a person. And yet, every time a religious group has something to say about the gays, they get “equal time” on network news.
And despite all of this, I’ve heard very little in support of tomorrow’s National Safe Schools Day of Action. There are events in 15 cities across the country to provoke action on the stagnant Student Non-Discrimination Act (HR 4530) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (HR 226). These are bills that would show a real commitment to improving life for our LGBTQ youth, and yet no action is being taken on them. This is a true tragedy, a severe ineptness with deadly consequences. Why aren’t more people energized to push these bills with the same fervor as ENDA or repeals of DADT and DOMA?
If we continue to be unenergized about actually teaching young people about their identities, interrupting the epidemic of bullying in our schools, or actually modeling true inclusive appreciation for the LGBTQ community, then we have learned nothing and these young people have suffered in vain. It is not just enough to undo the bullying; it must be countered and reversed with positive affirmation.
Be upset, but don’t just be sad. Don’t waste your tears mourning if you aren’t ready to step up to the plate and help correct the systemic problems of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.