Bullying is so straight, not gay
On the night of Sept. 22, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. His suicide was partially a response to harassment by his college roommate, who streamed video over the Internet of Clementi in a sexual encounter with another man. Clementi is sadly just one of many homosexual teens who killed himself in recent months because of anti-gay bullying. However, before rushing to vilify Clementi’s roommate for his callous and idiotic actions, it is important to note the larger forces that contributed to Clementi’s suicide.
The public school system is partially to blame for Clementi’s death. A recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) reveals that nine out of 10 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens experience harassment at their schools because of their orientation. This harassment instills teens a sense of inferiority in many GLBT teens — that they are “less than” their heterosexual counterparts — a belief that tends to linger long after graduation. The silence of teachers and school administrators further ingrains this sense of inferiority and is part of the reason why the suicide rate is so much higher among GLBT teens. Many of these students have no one to turn to for support. The average GLBT student is probably not receiving adequate support of their orientation or gender identity from their families, so teachers and school administrators need to take on the responsibility of mentoring them and providing them with a safe learning environment.
Religious groups like Focus on the Family, Exodus International and the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) are also partly to blame for Clementi’s suicide. These groups encourage the discrimination of homosexuals beneath the guise of the old adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” often citing questionable research by the official sounding, yet bogus American College of Pediatrics to support their hateful messages. CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate, recently launched a campaign against the Senate’s Safe Schools Improvement Act, a piece of legislation that would require public schools to adopt anti-bulling and harassment measures to protect students from discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.
“It would lay the foundation for codifying sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes,” CitizenLink says on its website.
How does one respond to such a bigoted statement? These are kids we are talking about — kids who are at a greater statistical risk of committing suicide. As long as bully-groups like CitizenLink are around, GLBT teens will continue to mentally debilitate to dangerous states. Christian groups need to stop resurrecting Anita Bryant’s worm-riddled corpse every time there is a piece of gay-friendly legislation they don’t agree with. They should instead follow the example of Andrew Marin, the evangelical author of “Love is an Orientation” and start treating homosexuals in a compassionate manner worthy of their deity.
Popular culture is also to blame for Clementi’s death. We live in culture in which most people do not think twice before uttering the phrase, “That’s so gay.” It is nearly impossible for a homosexual-identified individual to go through his or her day without hearing someone utter this acidic phrase. What if people started saying “that’s so straight” every time they thought something was stupid? Would straight people eventually start thinking that they were stupid and inferior?
It stands to reason that they would. How many times do you think Clementi heard “that’s so gay” uttered in his tragically short life? We need to either banish this phrase from the popular lexicon or turn it into something positive. The next time you use this phrase let it be as a response to something you deem creative, interesting, cool or beautiful.
Now is the time to take a stand against gay bullying. Too many GLBT teens have taken their lives because of our culture’s complacency. We need to provide GLBT-identified individuals with an environment in which they feel accepted, safe and normal; an environment in which they can make out with individuals of the same sex in their dorm rooms without the fear of discovery. Because after all, what would there be to discover?
Daniel Renfrow is a Anthropology junior and may be reached at [email protected]