Gay teen bullying epidemic must stop

The suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi was a tragic close to a shocking month of gay teens taking their own lives because of their sexuality. Clementi's dormmate secretly (and illegally) recorded the teen having sex with another man, sent out messages on Twitter and broadcast it across the internet. Clementi, who was allegedly not out to his family, jumped from the George Washington Bridge.

In California, Seth Walsh, 13, hung himself after years of being bullied, but no charges will be filed and the school claims no culpability. In Texas, Asher Brown, also 13, shot himself in the head with his father's pistol after school officials refused to do anything about constant bullying - even after his parents complained. And Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old Indiana high school student, hung himself after bullying that school officials ignored. A memorial page for Billy is filled with hate messages, so the bullying continues even in death. And let's not forget Jaheem Herrera, the 11-year-old Atlanta boy who hung himself last year after bullying by students, and Lawrence King, who was shot in the head twice by a fellow student in a California classroom, in 2008.

Bullying of teens is an epidemic on the rise in this country, especially gay teens. Children being picked on by classmates and peers is nothing new, but it's taken on new, deadly consequences because of the climate of bigotry in America and the rise of social media as a way to bully and taunt via the internet.

I'm going to make a statement here that many will probably find objectionable, but it's true nevertheless: straight people don't get it. They have no idea how it feels to be a kid coming to terms with a sexuality that is deemed "sinful," "immoral," "sick," "disgusting" and outside "societal norms." Parents, religious groups and right wing politicians pass on bigotry and create an atmosphere where it's acceptable to attack gay teens. Teachers and school administrators either ignore it, sweep it under the rug or encourage it by non-action.

While civil rights for the LGBT community are at the forefront now because of debate over marriage equality, adoption rights and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," information on the world wide web ranges from uplifting to condemnation. These mixed signals are confusing to teens, especially when they are uncertain what the reaction will be from family and friends if they come out.

Daily there are inflammatory statements and outright lies by conservative politicians who say repealing "don't ask, don't tell" will destroy the military, and even a few who claim you'll get AIDS. Those same politicians and the Christian crazy base they pander to go on television and the web spewing hate and intolerance, making LGBT people look like defectives and second class citizens. Imagine a child hearing and reading statements like this as they struggle to find their place in the world.

A staffer of Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss went to gay website Joe.My.God and posted "all fags must die" and Chambliss reacted with mock outrage, since he is one of the most bigoted, anti-gay politicians in the country. The staffer obviously felt enabled to do this by Chambliss and when the website traced the comment back to Chambliss' Atlanta office, it turned the spotlight up a notch on cyber-bullying.

Michigan's assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell created a website to ridicule and denounce a University of Michigan student, Chris Armstrong for being a gay advocate, writing some of the most horrendous things imaginable. Shirvell went on the defensive (and every news channel) to spew more ignorance and claim his first amendment rights. While I'm a proponent of free speech, a state AG singling out a college student for ridicule, public humiliation and bigotry crosses the line into hate speech.

All of this simply has to stop. We must hold accountable politicians, religious organizations, parents, teachers and administrators who hold positions of authority and power who do nothing to stop bullying of teens – both straight and gay – and create atmospheres of hate and intolerance. The body count of our young people is already too high. Do not be silent.

It's been more than a decade since the brutal torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, which the LGBT community hoped would be a wake-up call on homophobia, prejudice and hate crimes. Much has happened in the world since Shepard's death – terrorist attacks, natural disasters, economies teetering on the brink of collapse. While we're distracted elsewhere, kids are dying. This is a new wake-up call.

Comments

jessica handler said…
I "get it" enough. This is cruel and horrible and is some grasping backward spasm the right wing is having at the cost of people's lives and the well being of their families and America at large.

I'd also really like to know how the hell this Shirvell guy is still holding his job, except that I assume the Michigan AG is using him as, pardon the deliberate pun, a tool for his own agenda.
If anyone could read these stories, and see the heartbroken families, and not break down and cry or at least have enough ache and shame to want to make this stop; then I pity that person. Their soul is empty.

Despair is a deep, dark hollow feeling that there is no hope, and how tragic that someone as obviously gifted and loving as Tyler Clementi felt that with this cruel backstabbing act, he had no more life.
Dan said…
Let us not forget 50 Cent and his constant Twitter feeds not only denouncing homosexuality but advocating violence against us, and now advocating violence against us in Playboy Magazine.

And how about Hollywood, where any gay character has to be a complete stereotype or the first character to die.

And book stores that segregate books to the "gay" section, and theatres that won't play a movie if two men kiss (while it's completely fine to have lesbian scenes).

I could go on and on and on because the segregation and bullying go on and on on.

Until ALL people, whether white, black, red, yellow, purple, Republican, Democrat, Christian, agnostic or any other category that they want to subscribe to, realizes that we are all, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, humans, there will be no change.

One group will always try to repress and dismiss another group.
Nancy Devine said…
collin, you're right. as a straight person, i don't get it. and i'm in no way offended that you say we straight people don't understand.

i don't look the other way when i find out that any students are being bullied. the teachers i work with do the same. is that enough? no. all of us need to do what we can to prevent and address bullying of youth, especially glbt youth.
Justin Evans said…
You are right. We don't get it. That's why we have the responsibility to let go of our prejudices which are harmful---both those which have been given to us and those we have picked up along the way.

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