Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Religious Right: Pro-Bullying

Sometimes I hear about something some politician is doing, and I think, "That cannot possibly be controversial." Usually these are kid-related (though as Lesley Kinzel has brilliantly pointed out, Michelle Obama's child obesity concerns are very problematic indeed). So when I heard that Obama was holding an anti-bullying summit, I thought, "Word. Everyone will be able to deal with this, because no one wants kids to be bullied!"

I know, right? It's like I just fell off the turnip truck or something.

Religious-right* monsters like Glenn Beck are calling it a "Big Brother" initiative - these are the same people who want to control uteri, and would be happy to use federal power to do so, remember - because they think that it's about teachers and principals Facebook-stalking students.

In fact, as Media Matters reports, the DOE is trying to help schools and parents prevent and handle bullying. All Facebook is doing is allowing users to report harassing comments to Facebook and safely alert a trusted community member to the problems, as online harassment is often a mirror to the off-line world.

Statistics show that LGBTQ kids are FAR more likely to experience harassment and bullying than straight-identified kids. The National Education Policy Center reports that "over 85% report being harassed because of their sexual or gender identity, and over 20% report being physically attacked." LGBTQ students have a suicide rate 3-4 times higher than do their straight classmates, and that statistic goes up to 8 times higher if their parents are not supportive. GLSEN, an organization of which I am a member despite having some problems with its name, reported in 2009 that 9 out of 10 LGBTQ students experience harassment in schools.

So now - for the last four or five months, and honestly, for years and decades - right-wing activists and lawmakers are calling this anti-bullying program part of the "homosexual agenda."

Go listen to Johann Hari's most recent podcast, in which he talks about how a kid in England killed himself recently by lying on train tracks, because he was bullied for being gay. As Johann so rightly points out, the only homosexual agenda is to get this kind of treatment of people to stop.

Dan Savage has said something along the lines of, "Adults bully queer people quietly at the ballot box, but teach their kids to do it in schools." If it becomes harder over time for adults to bully us at the ballot box, that means they're only going to turn up the heat on children in schools. They need a safe space to be assholes, you see. I can relate to Dan's anger on this, even if sometimes I think he says problematic things.

This really started to get bad back in October, when Focus on the Family launched a campaign called "True Tolerance," arguing that anti-bullying strategies are really meant to promote homosexuality in kids. This is the same "gay agenda" shit we've been hearing since Anita Bryant. It would be nice if these lunatics could at least be creative.

As Al Franken said in The Advocate, it's "unbelievable that anyone would suggest that bullying is not a problem." Nonetheless, the Minnesota Family Council has been ramping up their anti-anti-bullying campaign since October. In fact, in a classic moment of victim-blaming, the head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality blames LGBTQ groups for the bullying, because more students have been coming out of the closet.

Listen: A kid doesn't have to be out of the closet to be bullied. A kid doesn't even have to actually be LGBTQ - other kids only have to perceive her or him that way. I was bullied plenty in K-12, and I wasn't out. It just doesn't work that way. I have a friend whose first-grade son loves the color pink. But at school, he tells people his favorite color is yellow, because the other kids harassed him mercilessly until he changed his tune. I have no idea how this kid does or will identify, and that isn't the point. The kids are policing his gender signifiers.

But now the anti-queer people have their fee-fees hurt because they're being told they need to stop picking on queers. This is fascist! It is indoctrination! How DARE you tell us who we cannot drive to depression and suicide! THIS IS AMERICA.

(Speaking of America, these people want to rewrite history so that they can more effectively use it as a weapon. In a really fun revisionist moment, Gary Glenn claims that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been an anti-gay activist. I think he forgot about Bayard Rustin. Also, I'm not sure Glenn is on the side of confronting issues of social justice for racial minorities, either.)

Things really started to sound violent to me, though, when Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber got on ye olde radio on March 28 to say that “kids who are engaging in homosexual behavior often look inward and know that what they are doing is unnatural, is wrong, is immoral, and so they become depressed and the instances of suicide can rise there as well.”

You do not need me to tell you this is insanity. But this is why LGBTQ kids who are bullied actually do have it worse sometimes. Any given straight kid might have it worse in school than a queer classmate, but they don't have to listen to the whole of society, including their religious leaders and maybe even their parents, talking about how their very existence is wrong.

I have a hard time when I hear stuff like this, because I get really angry and feel like I'm flailing around. I think the problem with these people is that they are used to being at the top of the heap, but in order to justify continuing to get everything they want, they have to front like they're somehow oppressed. I really cannot figure out what else it would be. What are they so afraid of, that they blame children for their own suicides? There is something wrong with them. There is no good reason that this anti-bullying initiative should be controversial, but I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that the bullies themselves are fighting it.

What do you do, to keep the bullies from getting to you?

* No, not everyone on the right is religious, and not everyone religious is on the right (in fact, probably most religious people aren't, just by the numbers). But to deny that the religious right is a powerful voice in American culture and tends to be very much in favor of preserving the status quo I so loathe is misguided, I think. The right wing of the American political spectrum is loud, louder than its numbers suggest it should be, and also very wealthy. Complicate the notions of right wing and religious all you want, but write them off at your peril.


  1. I just can't even fathom a rational response to this because it makes me so ANGRY. Thanks so much for your always-insightful and compassionate blogging - I love reading (despite the idiot-induced hypertension).

  2. Nothing I have tried has helped keep the bullies from getting to me. Is there anything that could? Should there be? If there comes a time when bullies don't get to me, then I know I have lost the war, so to speak, because that's when we step into that dangerous, jaded territory where we no longer care about others and focus just on ourselves.

    I do, however, believe in hearing those who were victimized. Having and using your voice is a powerful way to begin to break away from any hold bullies might have over us. Invisibility and silence help no one...

  3. Totally, Prisca. I have a post scheduled for Friday about anger and how it is productive and necessary. But we do need coping strategies, even if that just means talking with people who get it. That's about all I have in my tool kit, honestly. Along with that goes the concept of Family, by which I mean the family you choose, the queer family, and, if we are lucky, actual blood relatives.