Earlier today, I came across a story on CNN about bullying… a kind of story that is far too common and equally as heart-breaking as any other… But something unexpected happened as I read through the comments:
“I don’t get why this is such a big deal. These kids just need to get thicker skin and the media needs to stop giving these stories so much attention. It is all your fault (referring to CNN) that these kids kill themselves. You put shame out there and make them aware of it, then they kill themselves. It’s that or they must have terrible family or parents. It’s not like they are the only ones being bullied.”
Now, I have heard this before… but never really responded, but something about this today made me type back. My response:
It is interesting. Whenever bullying is brought up, one type of bullying almost immediately comes up: gay bullying. Now, I am happy about that because it means that people are aware and talking about it. Conversation is a wonderful thing, even we disagree. That said, I want to address the bullying comment and how it really impacts people, how it is more than just “bullying,” and how it doesn’t end at school.
I really don’t like that “bully” is the word so closely associated with this very real problem. These kids are not being bullies. They are committing hate crimes in school. Think of an adult. If a man in his 20’s or 30’s comes up to me on the street and pushes me into a wall and yells derogatory words, that is a hate crime. It is assault and battery, and it is illegal. It is a traumatic event that seems to be less common in adulthood than in childhood, which makes sense as we are, as children, still figuring out what is right and wrong. Now certainly, I am not suggesting that we treat children that commit hate crimes as severely as an adult. I find that to be over-reactive and inappropriate. However, I think that if we can disassociate these attacks from bullying, then maybe people will take them more seriously. Gay-bashing in school is a special, and more damaging, kind of “bullying” than say a fat kid, or a nerd, or an autistic person. Those kinds of bullying typically stay at school. They rarely accompany a kid home or to church.
…for many, there really is no support because the “bullying” never ends.
That is the difference in impact as being “bullied” for being gay does not end at youth and it does not end at school. In our world, while things are getting better, gay children are bombarded with concepts that being gay is unnatural, that people will hate them for being gay, that their parents will disown them, that their church will judge and shame them. And this does not come from a school-yard shouting match or scuffle. It comes from many facets of life that are far beyond just school. It can come from parents, preachers, community leaders, T.V., radio, the Internet, etc… This is why it has so much more impact. Because for many, there really is no support because the “bullying” never ends.
When an overweight kid gets bullied, he can talk to someone about it. He will get support, if a kid of color, or handicap, or certain appearance gets bullied, there can be support as they will be able to talk to someone about it. How can a gay child go home and talk to their parents about being attacked for being gay when the child is afraid of telling his parent(s) that he/she is gay. There is no support there. In a lot of schools, discussing gay is taboo and typically triggers a negative reaction. So guidance counselors are not available. Teachers, coaches, religious figures, etc are, to a child yet to have come out, off limits. And how can that kid feel comfortable talking to friends, when the child fears recourse? Then, on top of that, getting upset or crying is surely to cause even more “bullying” as the attacking children will use that as reinforcement to “gayness” (for boys, at least – cause boys aren’t supposed to cry. That’s gay.).
Regarding parents or family, sometimes they will be the most supportive people in the world, but, speaking from experience, there is still way too much fear to talk. For me, it took years to work up the courage to talk openly about it. And society, church, law, and media continued to talk about the sins of being gay or the penalties for being gay like being kicked out or sent to camps to “cure” gay. The reality that I saw was terrifying. I got lucky, my parents didn’t bat an eye. It is a non-issue. It is not even something that I would say is “supportive.” For us, it just is. There is no difference from my life before coming out and after. That is how it should be. It should not matter one bit. Again… I got lucky. Some kids aren’t that lucky.
Then, you get into adulthood and things start to get even more complicated… more violent. In my life, I have been exposed to way too much violence targeted at gay people, but have only been personally attacked once. A few years back, I was standing alone in front of a community center that had a rainbow flag above it, so it was assumed to be associated with the LGBT community, when a group of guys in a pickup decided it would be a good idea to throw beer bottles at me, almost hitting me. Luckily they didn’t. There are many more stories like this. People are killed, beaten, and driven to suicide like kids I have met while collaborating with a non-profit that support homeless youth. They come in with no light in their eyes and a feeling that the world is not a safe place. Many have attempted suicide. They have nothing.
…kids kill themselves because that is the only way out of a world that hates them. Ignores them. Attacks them. And vilifies them.
There is a world out there that many do not see, and I am glad that they do not have to see the hate that I witness far too often.
Wow… this got long-winded.
But the long and the short of it is that I hope that what I have typed will help some readers gain insight into why “gay bullying” is so much more damaging than other types. When your perspective of the world is hate of your existence, and you have nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, the loneliness and pain can be too much to bear… so kids kill themselves because that is the only way out of a world that hates them. Ignores them. Attacks them. And vilifies them.