Last month there was a day of silence in schools to promote awareness of schools about the dangers gay students experience. In solidarity with their gay peers who are frequently bullied into silence, students were encouraged (by outside activist groups, not by schools themselves) to voluntarily refrain from speaking in school all day.
Unsurprisingly, for some conservative Christians who claim to love gays as people as much as they hate their “sin”, actually protecting those gays, even gay kids, from bullying and harassment or protecting their rights to employment, etc. is less important than making clear how much they hate their sin. So, any signs of solidarity with gay people and affirmation of their rights to express themselves would be a threat to their propaganda campaign about the evils of their sinful sexual orientation. So, all that love for gays cannot even amount to anything resembling support for their equal dignity, safety, or opportunity equal to other Americans, lest all this treating gays as actual human beings might train people to shed their hatred of gay behavior and their labeling it as a sin for no rationally defensible reason.
Enter Bob Dutko, a conservative Christian radio host who opposes bullying people of course, but not opposing the bullying of gay students lest that be misconstrued as support for homosexuality itself. Also enter Teege, a substitute teacher and mother of a gay son, who called into Bob’s radio show and tried to reason with him:
Bob, I said, what do you think Christian parents should say when their children hear another child called gay or faggot? Bob said just tell them bullying is wrong. Period. That’s all you need to do. Then he gave an example: he was picked on as a kid because he had red hair. Red haired kids don’t need special protection against bullying. Bullying is bullying. He was implying that lots of kids get bullied, and you don’t need to pay attention to the nature of the bullying. Just say don’t do it. I wanted to say how ridiculous it was to equate the teasing he probably got for being a redhead with the harassment suffered by the gay kids I know, but before I could reply to that idea, he moved into his real objection. This is what he feels we have to protect children from. This is the attack by the secular world! Here it is, folks- brace yourselves- they’re telling kindergartners that sometimes mommies kiss other mommies! Bob’s tone was full of disgust and outrage as he spat out that accusation. But I didn’t let him continue. I burst out myself, with a statement incredulous in its simplicity. But they do! It’s true! I said. There are kindergartners who have same sex parents! Do you deny that they exist? Just saying they exist isn’t a value judgment. And finally I came up against the big wall, the stopping point, the belief that keeps ‘you fag’ and ‘that’s so gay’ alive and well in our schools. But it is, he said. It is.
Looking back now, I understand a little better how this whole thing works for very conservative Christians like Bob. There’s a lot at stake here if you’re trying to support a black and white/no exceptions system of belief. To him it is a value judgment. Admitting that there are families with same sex parents validates them, makes them human, puts them in the same category as hetero Christian parents who also help with homework, go out for ice cream, give time outs and read bedtime stories. But that’s not what gays and lesbians are in Bob’s world. Do you want to know what category gay and lesbian parents should be in, according to Bob? The same category as alcoholics and porn addicts. Yes. That was his example. He said to me, you don’t teach that some kids have daddies that come home drunk or look at pictures of naked ladies on the computer every night, do you? Well then. You don’t teach about homosexuality.
Wow. That one left me stunned. Then I realized we weren’t talking about kids any more. He had moved the conversation into dogma, into what his religion says is right and wrong. So I brought it back to the issue of safety. I asked him straight out- don’t you think gay bullying needs to be addressed as a particular issue? He said no. A strong flat no. I could imagine his heart hardening as he said it, and it made mine break. For my son when he was in school. For his brother and sisters who stood up for him. For my young friends and my daughter’s friends. For the kids I see in the classrooms and the hallways trying to avoid being targets. Because they’re thin, or short. They wear ‘goth’ clothes or super skinny jeans. They’re not jocks, not cheerleader pretty. So they get called gay. Faggot. Some of them are gay, some aren’t. Some don’t know yet where their sexuality falls on the continuum. But they all get pushed, tripped, shoved into walls. Threatened with an ass kicking. Laughed at. Getting an ass kicking.
Again, I tried. I said to Bob, these kids exist. My son dropped out of high school. My daughter started a Gay Straight Alliance at her school that was desperately needed. Bob had an answer to that too: Well, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and these gay-straight things, they talk to kids that were bullied and get them to say it was because they’re gay. In essence, he believes they make up the statistics about gay bulling in schools. I finally got mad. So you’re saying my son didn’t drop out of high school because of the harassment about his sexual orientation? No, I didn’t say that, countered Bob. He’s right, he didn’t. As if that excuses everything he did say. I took a deep breath. Well, I said, let’s not talk about ‘they’- organizations who collect stats and do surveys. I know these kids. I know they exist. And you’re telling me they need no more help than a kid who gets picked on for having red hair? Right, said Bob. And then we both seemed to throw in the towel at the same time, agreeing that the conversation had gone on long enough. I seem to remember a mutual sigh, but for very different reasons.
I was stunned after that phone call. At the level of denial that has to be kept up to keep such a belief system in place. Especially with that poor bullied red haired kid as the counterargument. That kid can go to any adult at school and- safe bet- will be told that the teasing is wrong. Red hair is fine. In fact, it’s special! The offender will be told to stop the teasing. The kid who is called fag every day and pushed against the lockers? NO guarantee that he will be able to approach any adult and get support. Why? Because of what Bob refuses to see: If you don’t talk about it, it excuses the bullying. You have to talk about it to address what’s going on. The adults have to admit that bullying related to gender identity is happening. It’s not enough to say ‘don’t bully.’ Kids know they’ll get in trouble if they make fun of someone for having red hair. Even other kids will tell them to stop. But I have never heard a student of any age say, don’t say ‘that’s so gay’. Don’t call him a faggot. Why? They won’t get support from the adults who should be backing them up- no, who should be the first to say it. And I’m sorry, Bob, but I doubt you got shoved against the lockers, had books knocked out of your arms, and got tripped. Daily. With teachers watching. I doubt that kids told you to watch out because they were gonna kick your ass after school. I doubt that you in fact got your ass kicked because you had red hair. And I bet it didn’t continue to some degree through high school and college and into your work life.
To acknowledge that the problem exists, Bob would have to admit his religion’s part in it. How conservative Christianity vilifies and dehumanizes gays and lesbians, making bullying and harassment acceptable. For example, I came across some disturbing stuff on the websites of both the American Family Association and Concerned Women of America. They state that there is a group of ‘homosexual activists’ on the loose. They’re atheists, which means they hate God, and therefore everything good, healthy and moral. They want to destroy Christianity and the American family so they can have sex with your children. What they say about the National Day of Silence (young people remain silent during school to bring attention to LGBT bullying) goes right along with Bob’s opinion about GLSEN and GLAAD:
The Day of Silence is just one of the homosexual indoctrination programs operating in our schools. This is a manufactured crisis of violence upon gender-confused students. Adult homosexual activists have manufactured it to promote a political agenda.
Whose world is this in? Not anyone’s who actually listens to kids. It’s the world of someone who can look my son full in the face, see his pain, and turn and walk away. And that’s what breaks my heart.
I think Teege gets to the heart of the irresponsibility of the faith-based anti-gay position. They want to obliterate homosexuality from existence and are in denial that in practice that means harming homosexuals. The logic of the Bible which leads to killing them is the same logic at work and they cannot make that square with the inclusive circle of modern, non-violent democratic society. What those like Bob cannot grasp is that loving people and respecting people as equals requires actions of inclusion, not just lip service to it. You cannot have it both ways, you cannot love the sinner while locking him in a closet.I once had a long talk with a relatively liberal, well-educated evangelical, who was a passionate supporter of Obama even, who didn’t want to alienate gays but still thought homosexuality was immoral for biblical reasons. She tried to make the case that she could be accepting on a social level and I asked her, “How can you? if you have a gay couple for friends, can you have them over if you insist that their relationship is immoral? Can you acknowledge and respect their love as legitimate when you think God condemns it? Can you attend their wedding and wish them well without qualifications? This is a practical contradiction you cannot live out.” Her response: I was making her uncomfortable. So, I dropped it. Hopefully, she’ll drop it too when she (inevitably) has to make a choice between acting in accord with her beliefs about the immorality of her gay friends’ loving relationships and making them uncomfortable.