“When you come upon misdeeds
speak out about those misdeeds,
and give your enemies no peace.”
(“Poetic Edda,” Havamal, verse 127)
We are in the midst of a pandemic. It’s not a sickness and it’s not something that can be cured by any neat inoculation. No, that pandemic is hatred and it is a disease as corrosive and deadly as any plague. As my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters (and those who love and support them) struggle bravely onward in the fight for respect and equal rights, it seems they have something else to worry about too: their own safety. (Not that this hasn’t been a concern before, but now, it seems that young people are being targeted to a degree that we as a society should find terrifying and appalling).
Over the past week, I have heard of at least half dozen murders of gay youth: Seth Walsh, who committed suicide after repeated bullying, bullying his school is now trying to deny (and yes, in my mind, that’s murder just as if he’d been beaten down in the street. Words and threats have power after all both to harm and to heal, all the more so when one sees no way out.), Billy Lucas also committed suicide for the very same reasons, so did Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi. (http://www.theawl.com/2010/09/a-summary-of-our-gay-teen-bodycount) Today I learned of another murder, this time a knifing, though at the request of the family, I shall allow the boy to remain anonymous. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Are we as a nation really so obsessed with the consensual sexual practices of our neighbors that we tacitly condone venting our hatred, our prejudice, our ignorance and small mindedness on others in such a fashion? That is what this comes down to. It’s not about who is doing what to whom sexually. It’s about perceived gender violation being met with lethal violence. And nothing is being done. Our children are dying brutally and nothing is being done.
There is a lot of talk within Heathenry about the religion having a warrior’s ethos. Good. If that’s the case (and I believe it can be) then it begs the question: what are we doing to stop this? A warrior’s first duty was to protect his or her community from violence, from harm, from devastation. A warrior’s first duty was to protect those who could not protect themselves. In doing so, he or she kept the community strong. Inangarð was created and maintained. Now is the perfect time, in whatever small ways one can, to put that warrior ethos into direct and positive action. It doesn’t matter that none of the boys I mentioned were Heathen (though at least one I know of was practicing his own ancestral tradition). A society that encourages or tacitly condones the death of those who are different can very easily look at those of us practicing our traditional religions as being a little too different to warrant equality as well. We could be these boys; and even if that is not the case, what kind of human being stands by silent and inert while this type of injustice is going on? Sometimes silence equals consent. It equals agreement. It equals moral cowardice.
When are we going to stand up, as a group, and say “this is not acceptable?” What are we each doing to protect those who need it the most? I don’t have any answers here. I know that my religion tells me to stand up in the face of injustice, to speak out, to embrace the grace of moral courage. If you can do nothing else, each and every one of us can pray and make offerings to our Gods and ancestors that this spate of violence stop, that our society wakes itself up. Moreover, each and every one of us should be on the lookout for those ways in which we can step up, step in and actively help prevent this from getting any worse. All but one of the examples I noted above involved school bullying. Our schools are becoming emotional war-zones. So there is a place to start. Those of you with children: what are you doing to make your children’s schools a safer place? Those without: what can you do?
I urge all Heathens and Pagans to do anything they can to be a voice of reason, compassion, and respect and to be a haven for those who, like so many of these poor kids mentioned above, may feel they have nowhere else to turn. Let this be a way in which we honor our Gods, in which we show the world that we as a group are people of integrity following a religion of honor. Be a voice in your community and not just your religious community. Be a voice where it may not be quite so comfortable to speak out. We do have the power to change this, or at least to stand firmly against it. Let this be one of the battles in which we prove ourselves worthy of Valhalla.
For those who wish to get involved but who don’t know where to start, I offer the following suggestions:
Anti-Bullying Network: http://www.antibullying.net/
Safe Schools Program: http://www.pflagnyc.org/safeschools
Gay Straight Education Network: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/home/index.html
Safe Schools Coalition: http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/
It Gets Better Project: http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject
Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project: http://www.lambda.org/avp_gen.htm
National Suicide Hotline: http://www.suicide.org/gay-and-lesbian-suicide.html
No action, no effort is too small save one: doing nothing at all. We truly can, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. It begins with our willingness to act and moreover, with our unwillingness to remain silent. We live in Midgard. We are part of the human world. Let’s make it better.