Friday, October 01, 2010


I've never been they type to wear my emotions on my sleeve, but that doesn't mean I'm not deeply moved by the stories of injustice and suffering that reach us all on an almost-daily basis. Quite frankly, I'd find it a challenge to think charitably of anyone who isn't disturbed by the recent spate of suicides provoked by anti-gay bullying.

The brutal mistreatment that drove these kids to take their own lives is hardly uncommon, much less a new phenomenon, though to listen to religious right groups one might be misled into thinking that it's the gay kids who are the real bullies (a line of reasoning akin to saying that the Inquisitors were the real victims of the Spanish Inquisition). Indeed, observing how different Christians respond (or fail to respond) to this issue is a pretty effective way of separating those sincerely trying to live out the Golden Rule from those whose view of God has been so tainted by fear that they have nothing positive left to offer the rest of the world.

For my own part, I suffered less than a lot of kids in my position do. In eighth grade I returned to public school after two years in a small private school, and it wasn't too long before I became the target of some older kids (our junior high included 7th-9th grades). Fortunately for me their harassment didn't go much beyond verbal taunts - whether that was because they got bored when their efforts never provoked a response from me (I had already learned by that age how to maintain a pretty good poker face) or because I had a protector in the school that I wasn't conscious of, I don't know. But it's hard to say how things might have gone had their harassment ever become physically violent; it's not as though I could have defended myself well enough to stop them from doing just about anything they might have felt like doing.

Truth be told I don't remember that many details about the kids who harassed me, or even their names. Yet I doubt it was a coincidence that eighth grade was the year I became self-conscious about my more effeminate mannerisms and began making a deliberate effort to suppress them. Once disguised, I was able to fly under the radar (or gaydar, as the case may be), and I was mostly ignored by those outside my immediate social circle in high school. I may have hated myself (for a number of reasons), I may have been emotionally isolated with virtually no social life, but I did manage to evade the attention of those who would have hated me as much as I did.

Many kids (both gay and straight) fare far worse than that, which makes it all the more reprehensible when religious right groups decry any effort to protect gay youth from abuse as part of some sinister agenda to destroy society. Groups like the Family Research Council may not be directly responsible for the high suicide rate among gay teenagers, but only the willfully blind can pretend that words don't matter, and that being bombarded with messages about how sick and perverted one supposedly is doesn't cause harm.

Bullying is bullying, whether the perpetrator is the meanest kid on the playground or a self-styled spokesman for God in a three-piece suit. The good news is that bullies is all they are, and the brittle, spiteful god they claim to speak for is purely an idol of their own invention.

The better news is that it really does get better, as Dan Savage has been working to let everyone know. And the best news of all is that the One who made us, the Author of love - the real God who's far larger than any of our petty prejudices - really does love every one of us exactly as we are - no exceptions, no ifs, ands or buts. And no bully can ever take that away.

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