This forthcoming 2 Part Series is written by Kevin Harris – Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.
“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” -Jesus
As most everyone has heard, recently there has been a tragic string of suicides in the last three weeks that is now up to six teenagers. A commonality in each case is that each teenager was gay or perceived to be gay by those that bullied them. Recent research shows that these cases of bullying were not just isolated incidents.
-9 out of 10 LGBT student (86.2%) experienced harassment at school. (GLSEN National School Climate Survey 2009)
-Sexual minority youth, or teens that identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual are bullied two to three times more than heterosexuals. (Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH 2010)
-Almost all transgender students have been verbally harassed (e.g. called names or threatened in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and gender expression (89%). (GLSEN: Harsh Realities, The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools 2009)
While all the recent cases of suicide have been very saddening, my initial hope was that this devastating news would serve as a catalyst to address the bullying and violence that continues to haunt LGBT youth or those perceived to be so in anyway. That it would be a rally call for our society and the Church to rise up and seek to protect those that are suffering silently. But no sooner than I initially heard the news of the deaths did I start to hear parts of the Christian community focusing on rallying to defeat political measures instead of putting all their energy into overcoming bullying while proposing solutions that fall short of effectively addressing the current climate that perpetuates homophobia and this type of bullying.
“Bullying prevention policies would be most effective if they addressed the far reaching nature of this problem, which so many of American children (30%) are dealing with. So the most effective policies and initiatives would be ones that protect any child against bullying for any reason. The correct focus is to prevent the wrong actions, not focusing on the characteristics of the victims. It doesn’t matter why the victim is targeted, it is wrong to harm them for any reason.”
This philosophy is ignoring the prevalence of LGBT bullying mentioned above and is not going to address the root of the problem. We are not going to be able to get rid of homophobia if we do not actually discuss homophobia. Can we imagine how effective it would have been to say that it didn’t matter why kids were being bullied and did not specifically talk about racism when schools were being integrated in the 60s’? If we do not address the underlying issues, they will continue to manifest themselves in forms of bullying. It is like only focusing on the symptoms while neglecting the disease that is making the person sick in the first place. I agree with Candi Cushman that all forms of bullying must be condemned, but without specifically getting to the heart of the matter the diseases that plague our society like homophobia will continue to cripple and kill our children while the surface level anti-bullying initiatives function as damage control for a few visible cases. By not addressing the specific problems and naming them, we will actually reinforce the context that brought about these suicides.