The Bigoted Bullying of our LGBT Youth and the Responsibilities of Parents and Educators

BullyConformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. – John F. Kennedy”

There was a story on CNN (and other outlets) about An Indiana mother who sent her gay son to his high school with a stun gun after administrators apparently didn’t do enough to stop the bullying.

The mother, Chelsea Grimes, said she would do it again. In an all-too-familiar response, Principal Larry Yarrel said, “If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.” This is eerily similar to blaming a rape victim for their assault by citing their choice of clothing. It is, for lack of a better word…

Bullshit…

It wasn’t long ago that a man named Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, killed himself after discovering that his roommate had secretly used a webcam to stream his romantic interlude with another man over the Internet. There have been many others, and often the high-school level is the absolute worst time in the lives of our LGBT youth. Most often, the abuse started many years prior and has gone undefended either due to ignorance or negligence.

There has been a lot of attention to paid lately to the problem of bullying, particularly inclusive of the discrimination of our LGBT youth. Sometimes the bullies get a comeuppance, but that is rare. It’s the victims who end up getting the short end of the stick. While this sometimes ends up in murder or suicide, it always ends up in a miserable childhood. Adolescence and young adulthood is often a trying time for those who do not fit the mold of what society says is acceptable, and they often endure non-stop abuse. They get picked on, chastised, have their property destroyed and get assaulted and terrorized very regularly.

Learned Behavior…

They say the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Most bullies are homegrown, having been nurtured by their parents in the ways of hatred and bigotry. These are not pleasant children.  They are generally cruel, horrible, mean little urchins. As a parent, I can fully understand why Mrs. Grimes would send her son to school with a defensive weapon. It is a sad commentary on some of our educators and school administrators that a parent should even have to consider this.

If my child were the target of unrelenting harassment, I cannot say I would not do the same. I have an intense desire to protect my children, and if those who are responsible for ensuring their safety are failing at their job, it is my responsibility as a parent to act in the best interests of my child, and to do whatever I can to make sure no harm comes to them. Some parents excel at this. Others fail miserably.

It Gets Better…?

In spite of all the “it gets better” videos that have been offered up by various celebrities (which I fully support), many of our youth who fall victim to constant bullying cannot fathom that it will eventually stop. I can personally vouch for this, as I spent a good part of my elementary and middle school years being bullied. I was short in stature and not athletic at all. I did well in my studies, was overweight and wore glasses. I was never seen in church, was kinda shy and not popular with the girls. Add to the mix that I was part of the geek squad (AV), a musician and participated in the arts and theater groups. As part of the drama club I got a little plastic ID card that identified me as a “Thespian.”

According to the bullies in my school, this meant that I was obviously gay. When I was being regularly assaulted through all of my elementary and middle school years, there was little that anyone could do to convince me that it would end. I cannot honestly say what would have happened had the bullying endured into my high-school years. I can remember very clearly thoughts of killing myself, but mostly I had thoughts about murdering the bullies.

Fortunately, I had very progressive-minded secular parents who encouraged communication. When I communicated my thoughts, they sought out a therapist for me. Over a period of a couple of years I learned valuable skills that helped me deal with my feelings constructively. This, by the way, eventually led to my career as a writer.

Systemics…

While being bullied for things like weight, stature and personal preferences within school activities is a huge problem, it doesn’t even begin to touch the level that the LGBT youth are dealing with. Bigoted bullying is often systemic within the family construct. Those who bully others for being gay or perceived as gay are often the children of equally bigoted bully parents.

For me, the most common taunts I got when I was in elementary and junior high, and the ones that resulted in the most severe incidences of personal assault, were  “faggot” and “queer.” This continued even when I “grew” into my weight and nobody cared if I was a geek or part of the drama club. The bullying finally stopped when it became apparent that I was not homosexual. This should speak volumes to you.

Bigoted bullying toward the LGBT community doesn’t stop at high-school graduation. This is why the campaign is called “it gets better,” and not “it will stop.” Where the LGBT community is concerned, bullying often continues into college and beyond. The assaults and battering get more intense, more damaging and more cruel as the bullies grow into their bigotry, incorporating it into their world view. Sometimes those bigoted bullies end up in politics – shaping the anti-gay legislation and discrimination we are seeing with the likes of Perry, Bachman, et., al.

Perspective…

To be bullied is a horrible way to go through youth. It seems like the bullying is going to last forever, and in spite of what they are told, adulthood is light years away and the torture they are enduring doesn’t feel like it’s going to end any time soon. Fear and apprehension consume every waking moment, and many of the sleeping ones, too. While the bully is always to blame, some of the blame must be shared by the parents of the children being victimized when those parents choose to ignore the concerns of their children or offer useless and often damaging advice. While the actions of Mrs. Grimes sending her child to school with a weapon might be extreme, at least she is attempting to deal with her son’s plight.

As I stated, my parents chose a plan of action that was successful. However, there are many youth who arrive home after school every day and tell their parents they are being bullied, and their parents choose to either invalidate their child’s fears or offer advice that puts the solution on the shoulders of an already overwhelmed kid. Telling a child to ignore bullies, or take a route  that circumvents the bully, or some other avoidance technique only instills in the mind of the child that their abuse will only be stopped if they make a change, rather than the abuser being held responsible. Imagine giving similar advice to a woman who is being beaten by her husband…

Listen To Your Child…

Parents need to take their child’s situation seriously.  Bullying is not “normal adolescent behavior” and advice to “avoid the bullies” is completely impractical in a closed society like a school. It’s like trying to avoid a tornado by stepping into an outhouse.  Parents need to get involved, talk to the school and if that doesn’t work, take it a step or two further, even if it means levying charges against the school for not providing a safe environment for its students.

Allowing severe bullying to continue in primary school can end up with a severely disturbed high-school student, and in some cases, the results are horrifying. Children committing suicide because of being bullied is not a new problem, and the reasons why they are being bullied have also not changed.  For boys, accusations of homosexuality still top the list, and there is no way to get around the fact that the source of the ignorance toward homosexuality is borne out of religious beliefs, indoctrination and superstitions.

Final Thoughts…

It pains most of us when a youth chooses to end their lives because they are being tortured for who they are. Part of parenting skills should consist of training to properly to recognize a potential suicide or a situation that could very likely culminate in multiple homicides. There is enough attention being paid to the problem of bullying that ignorance can no longer be afforded as an excuse by parents, guardians or school employees.

If a responsible adult is aware of the situation and does nothing about it, the blood of those who are killed, including the child who commits suicide, is on their hands, as well. The world suffers a great loss when a child dies, because a piece of our future dies as well.  Everybody loses.

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  8 comments for “The Bigoted Bullying of our LGBT Youth and the Responsibilities of Parents and Educators

  1. May 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Great post Al. Bullying is a major problem in society and our youth population is particularly vulnerable. Not sure if you heard about the law in TN that states that comments coming from a religious nature cannot be seen as bullying. I find that law to be one of the most deplorable that I have seen recently. It is a free pass for LGBT bullying.

    Parents need to take action to prevent this in our schools. Administrators and teachers cannot handle the task themselves, even if they want to help. Much of the bullying does not take place in the classroom. Parents of children who are bullied need to talk with their children and seek solutions that will help them deal with realities of bullying. They also need to deal with the school or school board in a progressive and active manner.

    Bullying can have serious and lasting effects on a person. It cannot be tolerated anywhere.

  2. Sas
    May 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Principal Larry Yarrel said, “If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.”

    If you read books, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.
    If you wear too much black, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.
    If you like an unpopular band, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.
    If you insist on joining a nerd club, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.
    If you can’t afford expensive clothes, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.

    What they should be saying is that you’re a shitty principal, Larry.

  3. kennypo65
    May 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I just hope she told her son that when he deployed the stun gun, he hit the guy in the balls. That way, not only will he drop like a stone, he will piss his pants and then they will laugh at the bully for a while. Standing up for yourself is great, but revenge is awesome.

  4. JJ7212
    May 7, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I used to always get in fights with bigger kids who bullied me. I lost more than half the time, but when I won, they didn’t bother me much after that. In 8th grade, I hit an older kid with my snare drum (case, stand, sticks, and all)! He didn’t get up for 2 minutes AND about 15 other kids saw it! That embarrassed him pretty bad. I only hit smaller sized kids when they tried to bother me in a group. I remember a high school teacher who turned the other cheek once when I kicked a bigger kids ass in the hallway for bothering me everyday. He was a mega bully and I’m glad I got away with it. I really hate fighting, but I seem to be very good at it now, especially with my Marine Corps experience. And being six foot four here in Japan, I never eving think about someone bothering me! lol

  5. Aquamye
    May 8, 2012 at 6:39 am

    As a teacher in a middle school setting in the deep, deeply religious South, I hear the intended slur, “You’re gay” or “he/she’s gay” frequently, and I assure you I call these verbal bullies out every time I witness it. In addition, middle schoolers tend to call others, particularly girls, fat or ugly, too tall or short, etc. While I report to the office and/oror dispense my scathing lectures, I have found that parents of the bullies are often the mirror images of their prejudiced darlings. I was recently raked over the coals by such a parent for assigning a lower grade for turning in late work. She herself screamed insults at me in a parent-teacher conference; I walked out of the meeting. Students, at the mercy of adults to whom they are entrusted, do not have that as a viable option. I can protect myself from adult bullies in an acceptable way, but my students depend on me and their other teachers. Unfortunately, the good ‘ol boy mentality thrives here, and many times, bullied kids are told to “get over it”, etc. the kids who are not mainstream drones, Stepford students, badly need advocates! Btw, that parent I mentioned? Her kid was in in-school suspension this week for bullying!

  6. ischemgeek
    May 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Speaking as someone who was bullied as a kid for the full length of my schooling, I have two issues with the “It gets better” campaign.

    1) “It gets better” ignores that it’s a damn long and dark tunnel to walk alone before you walk out into the light. I didn’t even see the proverbial light at the end until I was around sixteen or so. Before then, well-meaning exortations of “It’ll get better when you’re done with school!” only made the problem seem even more overwhelming. Imagine: You’re nine years old, crying because some brat made fun of you, pulled your hair, ruined your book, and spilled your hot lunch on you (on purpose) meaning you had to go hungry (again). And you tell your parents this and they say, “Just wait until you’re done with school! They won’t be able to bug you then!”

    Yeah, I have to wait a time equivalent to my full lifetime before this is gonna get better? And you think this is uplifting to a bullied kid?

    Definitely, it does help to know that there is a light at the end… but it also helps to have company on the walk. Support for kids, counselling, teaching coping skills, and effective school programs to address it are at least as important, if not moreso.

    2) ties in with #1: I think it’d be better to address it now rather than tell the kid, “You have to wait X years until you’re treated decently. Until then, we’ve got nothing for you.”

    We need to fight the whole blame-the-victim mentality of the system, get support in for these kids, and most importantly, need to get the message out that no, you shouldn’t be treated this way, and more importantly, you shouldn’t have to wait until you graduate or move or whatever before you’ll be treated like a human being rather than a punching bag.

    Because that was the other bit of the whole “It gets better” message I recieved (though I understand this is not the sentiment of the ad campaign, but in cases with bullied kids who aren’t recieving a lot of help at home, it will get jarbled with the messages they’re getting at home about it): That it was somehow acceptable for kids to treat another kid in a way that, if it was anyone else treating anyone else that way, would at best be considered abusive and at worst criminal. And that if I didn’t tough it out, the fault was with me for not being tough or strong or insensitive enough.

    But here’s my problem with the whole “you have to wait to be treated with respect and kidness” thing: We remove kids from houses where parents tell them to kill themselves. We charge adults who sexually harrass other people. We give restraining orders to abusive spouses. But the moment the people in question are underage and the treatment is happening on school grounds, it’s “kids will be kids” and “it gets better, so for now you have to tough it out.”

    Though I suspect I’m preaching to the choir, I have to say this: That’s fucking bullshit. I appreciate the sentiment (angry tone notwithstanding – 12 years of sexual harrassment, and physical and verbal abuse during one’s formative years leave a lot of emotional baggage, and I suspect bullying is one topic that I will never be able to be objective on), but the way they’re going about it is all wrong.

    I guess my point is this: Rather than just telling kids there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, people should also be offering to walk the tunnel with them. And maybe giving the kids good shoes and a flashlight and a warm sweater (in the form of coping techniques, counseling, and support groups) so the walk isn’t quite as lonely, overwhelming, scary, and painful.

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