Alex Blaze

It's back to school for LGBTQ people

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 05, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: bisexual, bullying, legislation, lesbian, policy, school, suicide, transgender, Washington Post

I'm hoping it's just the few people who I see on listserves and poster.jpgthe few, better known gay and pro-gay people out there who think that DADT repeal and same-sex marriage would solve the problem of homophobic bullying in schools. They won't - gay teen suicides resulting from bullying happen in states from across the spectrum, even in very gay-friendly Massachusetts - and solutions to this problem are going to have to focus on schools themselves.

There's a lot of energy and attention in this moment, and people are looking for the solution, and partly due to a lack of creativity and partly due to living in our self-constructed bubbles and partly because we queer people often have little to do with schools after we've left and partly because liberal politics generally has forgotten about education because there is no clear enemy and it's expensive and the ideological lines are very messy, we're looking in the wrong direction for that solution.

It's hard to think about solutions that will help young people while they're in schools, but that doesn't mean we should become distracted and allow these recent deaths to be co-opted by other causes. The take-home lesson of these suicides is not that DADT needs to be repealed or ENDA needs to get passed or any other big-ticket LGBT bill should be passed because it would send some sort of message that we're "equal" (those laws should be changed for other reasons). Consider the case of Jamie Nabozny, one of the few harassed gay students to successfully sue his school for failing to protect him:

In the seventh grade, Jamie realized he was gay and decided not to "closet" his sexuality. Considerable harassment and abuse from other students ensued throughout Jamie's middle and high school years, including name calling, striking and spitting on him. On one occasion two boys held Jamie down and performed a mock rape on him while twenty other students looked on and laughed. In an assault in a bathroom, Jamie was knocked down and urinated on by several boys. In the most serious physical assault, Jamie was kicked in the stomach for five to ten minutes by a boy while a group of students looked on in laughter. Jamie later collapsed from internal bleeding. Jamie was hospitalized several times for suicide attempts during his secondary school career. He withdrew to attend a Catholic school and also to live elsewhere with relatives. Jamie also ran away once but his parents convinced him to return with the unfulfilled promise that he would not have to attend Ashland High. Jamie and his parents repeatedly met with school officials after incidents of abuse, but received no satisfaction or an end to the abuse. Instead, Jamie was told that he deserved and should expect such behavior from his fellow students if he was going to be so openly gay. Finally, in the eleventh grade, Jamie left school and moved to Minneapolis where he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He completed his GED there.

Now, I don't think that he would have avoided PTSD if only he had known that one day he could be shipped to Afghanistan (wudda given the boy some hope). The solution to his problems, yes, included changing the broader culture that taught other students homophobia, but policy changes wouldn't have made those kids who already thought urinating on him was appropriate suddenly realize that he's a human being to be treated with respect. He needed change in the school, not from the outside.

The Washington Post ran a column yesterday from a professor in education policy on solutions to anti-gay bullying. She cited a large study with sample legislation and offered the following solutions:

• Adopt proactive school climate initiatives that demonstrate a commitment to inclusive policies and shared values within our pluralistic society.

• End discriminatory disciplinary practices and the inappropriate referral of LGBT students to special education.

• Implement LGBT-specific programs or activities at individual school sites, which may include safe zones, gay-straight alliances, and suicide prevention programs.

• Develop and implement LGBT-related professional development, locally determined and agreed upon by faculty and staff, for all school-site personnel.

• Align classroom pedagogy with shared values and respect for differences.

• Include age-appropriate LGBT-related content in the curriculum.

• Involve key members of campus athletic programs in LGBT-related initiatives.

• Make it clear that homophobic comments and actions by coaches and student athletes are completely unacceptable.

• Encourage student athletes to participate in targeted programs such as initiatives addressing bullying and hate violence, as well as gay-straight alliances, safe zones, and wellness programs.

The study itself mentioned my pet issue:

LGBT educators can serve as valuable resources in this regard, both day to day in the schools and in professional-development settings. But instead of taking advantage of the fact that openly LGBT teachers, coaches, and school-site administrators can play a central and highly positive role, too many districts continue to put explicit or implicit pressure on these educators to keep their identities closeted.

I've noticed that in the videos in Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" Project the way it gets better for most people in the videos is that they're able to move away from their small towns and choose their own friends. Homophobia doesn't decrease; rather, we find ways to shield ourselves from it.

And then the next generation goes to school with the kids of those adults who shielded themselves from gay-friendly messaging and queer people themselves, who have the same prejudices as their parents and perpetuate homophobia. The homophobes still exist, they're just far away, doing their own thing, having queer kids and anti-queer kids and indifferent kids and the odd gay-supportive kid, going back to school only to hear "It gets better," but first it'll be terrible.

We can't be blamed for not wanting to hang out with people who hate us. But the solution can't just be "Try to survive until you're old enough to choose who you interact with and then make some good choices." That abstract hope may help some of these teens, but one of the defining characteristics of adolescence is not seeing the long-term picture.

The solution will require us to go back to schools and fight for policy changes there; to go to the LGBT youth themselves and support them as they try to change things for the next class that'll be going through their schools systems; and to go to the legislature to make rules that even rural and private schools will have to follow. We may not all have kids, but our labor funds those schools and our community is supposed to be served by them just as much as anyone else is, so we do have a claim on the public education system.

And the homophobes will get mad. They'll get madder than if we just focused on trying to get to serve in the military or get anti-discrimination legislation passed because they'll know that we're attacking their power at its source: their ability to get the next generation to believe there's something wrong with them if they want to live their lives differently, that there's something disgusting about same-sex love, that they should feel contempt for those who decide to be the person they know they are on the inside.

The homophobes will say that their parental rights are being violated, as if parents own their children like slaves and can prevent them from becoming responsible citizens and secure adults. They'll say that their religious rights are being violated, insulting their religion by implying that mistreating others is one of its central tenets. They'll say that we just want to have sex with children, because they know that such a wild accusation drives everyone insane and has been making us retreat for decades.

And then we'll see some positive change. The logic that big-ticket LGBT federal legislation will change attitudes and help fight LGBT teen suicide is perfectly backwards; working on changing attitudes in schools, teaching kids that it's wrong to pick on someone for their sexuality, and giving young LGBT people more confidence and a better education will make that legislation easier to pass.

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First, there needs to be an "escape route" for these young people.

Second, religion needs to stop teaching that homosexuality is wrong. Christians continue to sanction bigotry and bullying with their teachings/beliefs. The blood of innocent LGBT teens is on their hands. Maybe (finally) some Christians will take a stand and reject those beliefs. It will save lives.

Excuse me, are you really, seriously asserting that every single Christian in the entire world sanctions anti-gay bigotry and bullying? Because you're definitely implying it by saying "maybe (finally) some Christians will take a stand", and that has to be one of the most utterly asinine things I've ever heard anyone say.

If AndrewW's beneign lumping of Christians upsets you so much, might want to take a valium before following this link:

Shorter, politer paraphrase: When children are dying, it is difficult to understand why you think your hurt feelings are the main issue.

I wondered about that post from Dan Savage that everyone seemed to like so much.

Why do some random person's feelings matter? Kids are dying. Because of their feelings being hurt. Oh.

Sorry, but you fail. There's a big difference between having hurt feelings over your voluntary attendance at a church, and being physically and psychologically assaulted in a school you're legally required to attend.

Christians are so by choice. If they feel insulted that a gay person lumps them with the majority of Christian groups that preach from the pulpit that homosexuality is wrong, then their feelings are quite misguided. I haven't seen a spat of Christians killing themselves lately because they're being oppressed.

Christians, as a majority, believe that homosexuality is a sin, and is wrong. If you're one of the few that belong to a faith that doesn't hold that belief, bravo. But as the article above states, by going to the UU across town instead of the baptist church on the corner you were raised in, you're shielding yourself, not helping the cause.

Want people to stop thinking all Christians are bigots just because 90% are? Start fixing the problem by lowering the percentage, not by attacking friends because they're stating what is for the majority of people in the world a given truth.

LOL. FAIL! We're back in 2008.

Anyway, no, I actually don't think that we get a free pass in making fun of people because we're the Supreme Perfect Victims, that since it's gay kids who committed suicide this past week that gay people don't have any responsible to watch their actions or their words or behave with minimal decency towards other. "Fuck your feelings" is a great mantra for the new American era of apathy that we've been constructing, but it only leads to more violence, especially psychological violence, not solutions.

Consider Thich Nhat Hanh's famous essay on Iraq War I (sorry, can't find it online) where the first people's feelings he discusses are those of the American and allied soldiers who went to Iraq to commit violence. He contrasted his concern with their feelings, the fact that they had to train for violence and would suffer immensely afterwards as well, and criticized Bush I's plea for Americans to pray for American soldiers' lives instead of everyone's. The point is, if we want violence to end, if we want peace, we can't build it on a foundation of "Fuck your feelings."

I recently wrote a series of posts on this site about MLK's memoirs of the Montgomery bus boycott, and one thing that's important is that he never at any point bought into the "Fuck your feelings" mentality. He once spoke angrily to a white segregationist who was arguing with him in public, and he called later to apologize. No "Fuck your feelings, segregation is severely oppressing black people." Rather, it was "Everyone's feelings are important because we're all in this together."

I don't bring up Nhat Hanh and King because I expect everyone to be like them, but to at least consider that moral giants and leaders who actually change the world do see things from a different perspective than raw tribalism. There isn't anything wrong with pointing out that Christianity isn't friendly to gays and work needs to be done there. And it's important to tell that woman who wrote Savage that her beliefs aren't written in stone and that they are causing suffering.

But something tells me that he didn't open up her ears or her heart and instead squandered an opportunity for conversation in order to score some "Aw no he dih-int!" points with gay readers. Whatever, that's his game, but we should recognize it for what it is instead of building a strategy around it.

"There isn't anything wrong with pointing out that Christianity isn't friendly to gays and work needs to be done there."

Isn't "friendly" to gays? Are you kidding? Is that the best you can do? Those unfriendly Christians?

At least in America, Christians have defined us as "wrong, sinful and deviant." That branding is the primary reason we do not have equality and it is the main reason for bigotry, discrimination, bullying and the loss of innocent life. That is simply unfriendly?

No other institution or group makes us "wrong." Even Olsen and Boies focused almost entirely on "religion," especially Christians for the hatred and discrimination of gays surrounding the Prop 8 mess.

I am astonished that you simply think Christians are "unfriendly" towards gays. Are you a Christian Alex? If so, what type?

I'm sorry that my anger doesn't measure up to your anger, and that I'm not exhibiting enough anger to satiate your need to see angry people.

Actually, no, I'm not sorry. Fuck your anger.

Just kidding! Seriously, tho, I'm not going to get into one of those fights where no one's language is possibly strong enough to capture the moment. That accomplishes nothing.

And, yeah, I'm super-duper Christian, Andrew. Carry my halo in my back pocket. Seriously, you've been reading this site for over a year at least and I've been posting almost every day. I was raised nonreligious and am still pretty much nonreligious. But I don't think that Christianity is the only institution that oppresses us. I see homophobia and transphobia elsewhere, in psychiatry, medicine, the media, literature, politics, etc. It can't all be blamed on Christianity since people made Christianity in the first place, which means that they made it homophobic (also means they can un-make it homophobic, as some people are doing). Homophobia's origins are elsewhere.

"I see homophobia and transphobia elsewhere, in psychiatry, medicine, the media, literature, politics, etc."

How do you suppose it got there Alex? Where, when and what planted the idea that homosexuality is "wrong?" Religion is the ONLY institution that does that and it isn't simply "unfriendly," it is killing people. It IS the source of ALL LGBT discrimination because it makes us "wrong."

I'm not angry. This conversation isn't about anger at all, it is about the innocent loss of life. I will admit to being disappointed in gay Christians that continue to refuse to accept responsibility for the planting of those seeds that lead to the loss of life. It is not forgivable - it is simply sad.

I think we'll just have to disagree on whether Christianity is the source of all homophobia. I really don't even see how that's possible (for reasons stated above), much less likely. Maybe if you had some historical evidence to back it up instead of just repeating the claim a million times?

Thanks for over analyzing the issue.

I said you failed because you're belittling the suicide victims in this case by essentially saying they did this over "hurt feelings". Sorry, but harassment, intimidation and assault equate to a lot more then "hurt feelings".

Tell me, if a teenager comes out and the parents feelings are hurt by it, should (s)he have stayed in the closet? Should (s)he have suffered in silence, alone? Should (s)he have committed suicide to prevent them from finding out? Where do we draw that line?

Nobody is saying "Fuck Christians feelings" in this. But at the same time, I'm not going to let their feelings, based on a warped sense of reality, dictate my life. Reality is 90% of Christian churches teach that homosexuality is a sin and is wrong, and in many places in the world religion motivates the killing of homosexual people (visit Uganda or Iran sometime if you think otherwise). Frankly, I don't care if I hurt their feelings by existing.

Hurt feelings are fleeting. Intimidation, harassment and assault are real and damaging. I suppose next you'll be saying gay teens should be committing suicide to prevent hurting the feelings of the bullies that are attacking them and not seeing results?

"Nobody is saying "Fuck Christians feelings" in this. "

That's simply untrue. Click through and read Dan Savage's post.

"I said you failed because you're belittling the suicide victims in this case by essentially saying they did this over "hurt feelings". Sorry, but harassment, intimidation and assault equate to a lot more then "hurt feelings"."

Physical violence is different from "hurt feelings," but I don't really see how psychological bullying isn't "hurt feelings." Unless you changed the meaning of the term, which I think you did, to mean only "hurt feelings that people get over," which I'd say is just a specific type of hurt feelings.

Hurt feelings are actually really important. People do crazy things to keep their feelings from being hurt, and, yes, some people commit suicide over hurt feelings. It isn't belittling anyone to say that hurt feelings are a bad thing.

And, yeah, throw in the "You secretly support gay teen suicide!!!" insult there at the end. My policy is to step out of internet conversations when people start saying ridiculous things for the sake of saying ridiculous things. Have a good evening.

Sorry, but there is a difference between hurt feelings and psychological bullying. At this point you're just mixing words to cover what you said.

Saying "I don't believe in your God, and don't care if my life follows your belief system" is a lot different than threatening someone with physical violence, or taunting someone in a way that will draw those capable of that violence to them.

Shame on you for belittling abuse to "hurt feeling", and double shame on you for trying to defend it when called on it.

The reason why I liked Dan Savages reply is because I relate to him on this. I don't know if it's just a Catholic thing, but to be Catholic is to be guilty. And it seemed to me the letter he received was about making Dan feel guilty. Not just for being gay. Guilt is an every day thing for a Catholic with confession and admission of guilt being ritual.

Christianism contributes to systemic heterosexism and Christians have not taken a stand against that in large numbers. I mostly see Christian folks leaping to defend their religion to gay people and trying to convince gay people that not all Christians are bad. Instead, they should be defending gay people in their Church and trying to convince the fellow Christians that being gay isn't a sin.

Apparently they do. Which Christian denominations have actually rejected the traditional Christian belief/teaching that "homosexuality is wrong?"

Please, make a list.

Renee Thomas | October 6, 2010 9:08 AM

I have no qualms standing to vigorously defend Andrew when he's entirely correct . . .

Not all Christians are actively homophobic and transphobic - but the explicit teachings of your faith are indeed antithetical to establishing the humanity, dignity and worth of LGBT people.

Full disclosure - I don't, on first meeting, trust Christians. Historically, as a faith you've not shown me much to trust or respect. So you have a rather significant burden to overcome with me individually. I suppose if I saw more of you actually succeeding in "acting like Jesus" I might think differently.

That not withstanding, being described in your sacred texts as an "abomination" worthy of death makes it clear what your faith and by extension your (g)od thinks of me . . . and indeed all of us. You may not teach to those text but they exist in your Bible like bitter vile poison nonetheless. So I challenge each of you enlightened Christians to stand up in your houses of worship and denounce the xenophobic and genocidal ranting of your invisible warrior chieftain (g)od of the desert wastes. Strike out those passages in your Bible and focus instead on this:

Without dissembling or exception . . . I Shall Unreservedly Love My Neighbor As I Love Myself.

You want to do something of lasting value for LGBT youth - that's the only teaching you’ll need.

We'll see just how many of you have the courage to take up that cross and follow Christ

I'll wager it’s not many of you, which of course makes Andrew's point.

While I wouldn't say passing DADT repeal and legislation like that directly decreases anti-gay bullying, I think there is a correlation with the debate itself and maybe an increase in anti-gay bullying. When I was in high school DADT passed and gay marriage was being argued in a court case in Hawaii. Imagine already being bullied, and having to have a classroom debate on gay issues with kids that bullied you.

I guess the thing is, it's systemic. It's not one's cumulative stress from different sources. I hear a lot of folks arguing that if not for religion people wouldn't be homophobic. But I couldn't tell you if the the boys who called me dyke were being misogynistic or homophobic. And actually, my senior year someone finally figured out that I could file a sexual harassment complaint.

Anyway, I absolutely support a really focused approach on education policies, and also on LGBT youth groups. That I would say that would have the biggest impact on anti-gay bullying specifically. But there's also other stuff that contributes.

Aubrey Haltom | October 6, 2010 7:58 AM

I would second GrrrlRomeo's comment.

The point doesn't seem to be that repealing DADT or passing ENDA will solve the problem of gay-bullying in schools.

But it doesn't seem much of a stretch to find a correlation between legalized second-class status of a minority and society's treatment of that minority.

Perhaps its a chicken and egg issue - the laws reflect a greater prejudice in society, while also encouraging that prejudice in practical ways.

But then, Alex, I find your thoughts on education to be right on target.

To note: your suggestions would be taking a page from the religious right playbook. School boards, school systems, local and state laws re: schools - these have all been targets of the religious right for the past two - three decades. For just the reasons you point out.

It's critical to highlight the relationship between education in this country and the lives of glbt youth. This discussion is important for all of us - with kids or without.

And I'll add I am one of those with a young child.

To note: your suggestions would be taking a page from the religious right playbook. School boards, school systems, local and state laws re: schools - these have all been targets of the religious right for the past two - three decades. For just the reasons you point out.

Bingo. We've been too afraid of the whole "infiltrating the schools" mantra while the religious right has had no such qualms.

What happened to the "I?" The Intersex Community is marginalized as well. What about the Intersex child in high school who has issues because of his/hers gentalia and having to use different areas for showering after PE? You don't think the other students don't know? And you don't think they are being bullied? Why has the "Gay' Community begun to leave out the "I?"

Renee Thomas | October 6, 2010 10:42 AM


Loudly seconded

Hearing no objection . . . so ordered.

"Why has the "Gay' Community begun to leave out the "I?""

Are you kidding? When has the "gay community" ever cared about Intersex folks? Sure sometimes they will tack an "I" at the end of their acronym, but it has always been a completely meaningless gesture. But let's be real here, most of the time the same can be said for the T & B... and often the L, depending on what group you are with.

This comment thread (conversation) is incredible. Asa far as we know a half-dozen young LGBT teens have taken their lives. They have decided it was better to be dead than to live in the circumstances they had to endure. They took their own lives. Think about that, and then think why or how that could possibly happen in 2010.

If you are not moved to try to understand "why" or the source of that pain or how they could possibly see "quitting" as an option you must be delusional. These young people were being attacked. They were being hurt simply because of who they were. Those that attacked them did so because they believed they were "lesser" human beings. The whole idea that they were "lesser" came from religion. Christians. That's not excusable Alex. These kids were marked by the bigoted Christian belief that they were "wrong" or "defective" and therefore the bullying made sense.

I find it offensive that anyone would try to cast the reality of these tragedies in any other way - especially without any evidence. Christian beliefs killed these kids or enabled it. Both are unforgivable. It is simply disgusting. It needs to stop. It needs to stop NOW.

Everyone in the LGBT Community needs to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. This story of the loss of innocent life is the most powerful event in the last few years. The entire country is focused on these senseless deaths and we must be honest about why they happened. They happened because of religion, and more accurately Christian beliefs/teachings. They will not end until we have the courage to deal with that reality.

Matthew Shepards brutal murder galvanized public thought. Lost in that awareness was the fact that a Mormon tied him to then fence and a Baptist beat him to death. THAT is the truth. The ugly, painful truth. The last two weeks have focused America's attention on the loss of innocent life. We have the opportunity to understand why it happened and do something about it. We have the opportunity to turn this loss of life into something positive. Only Christians can do that. They need to have the courage to say enough is enough. That isn't about anger, it is about honoring these young people and preventing it from happening again.

I remain amazed that Christians want to "save" everyone but the "gay ones." The makes Christians the problem for the LGBT community. It is clear that the Christian "branding" of gays has created most of our discrimination and our inability to be equal. At what point do you say enough is enough?

If we want our equality we must take a stand. If you are a gay-Christian and you put your faith before the simple human principle of equality you are failing all of us. Maybe that's easy without the death of young, innocent members of our community. But, they're dying. Don't let them die. Don't allow it anymore.

I suggest all of this wondering - what would Jesus do? Maybe Jesus would try to solve it. Maybe Jesus would understand that the institution of religion - especially Christianity - needed to grow up and stop the loss of innocent life. Maybe Jesus would save the children - our children.

"I find it offensive that anyone would try to cast the reality of these tragedies in any other way - especially without any evidence."

Says the guy going around and accusing people of various religious backgrounds and levels of faith and ethnicities and races and genders and sexualities, all of which he doesn't know... of being Christian bigots.

Andrew... gay Christians struggle. Sometimes when gay kids born into Christianity, they try to reconcile their faith with who they are. And that is what causes them the most pain. They already feel as though they are failing themselves without you telling them they are failing all of us.

And I would really like it if people would just stop saying gays, gay Christians, the gay community, or gay anything is a big failure. People have got to stop trying to make LGBTs hate themselves.

Dante said something like this:

"The hottest spots in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis do nothing.”