Vail Valley Voices: Are you teaching hate?
Vail, CO Colorado
We have all heard about the several all-too-similar recent news stories about young deaths related to bullying and gay baiting.
On Sept. 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas hung himself in his family’s barn, surrounded by the animals he so loved. According to classmates, he was the constant target of bullying. While he never admitted to anyone that he was gay, that was the general theme of his tormentors. The day before he died, one of his bullies told him to “Go hang yourself.” The next day, he did.
On Sept. 19, 13-year-old Seth Walsh was found unconscious hanging from a tree in his backyard. Ten days later, he was taken off life support and died. By all accounts, he had been tormented relentlessly by bullies at school for being gay.
His mother, Judy Walsh, said “He was different. He knew he was different. He was a very loving boy, very kind. He had a beautiful smile. He liked fashion, talking on the phone. He was artistic and very bright.”
On Sept. 23, Asher Brown, an eighth-grader who had been bullied for years not only for his small size but because he was gay, shot and killed himself. His family says he was “bullied to death” and repeated attempts to reach out to school administrators and counselors went ignored. To the bullies who mercilessly taunted her son, Brown’s mother said “I hope you’re happy with what you’ve done. I hope you got what you wanted and you’re just real satisfied with yourself.”
On Sept. 30, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers, jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death after Dharun Ravi (his roommate) and Molly Wei allegedly conspired to secretly tape him having sex with another man in his dorm room via webcam and then streamed the video live on the Internet. After suffering what one can only imagine to have been utter humiliation, Clementi posted “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry” on his Facebook page. His body was found in the Hudson River the next day.
What has happened elsewhere could very easily happen here as well, so we should all take heed.
Victimization of gay youth is nothing new. In 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo., brutally beaten, tortured and left for dead because he was gay. It took him six days to die.
Gay bashing is one of the most common forms of hate crimes, and between 2007 and 2008, gay-bias homicides rose 28 percent.
Gay youth are six times more likely to die from suicide as straight youth, and gay teens account for 30 percent of all teen suicides nationally.
The insecurity and fear that accompany the initial awakening a young person feels to the fact that they are somehow “different” are isolating and agonizing enough. When bullying is added to the equation, those feelings are magnified and, often, totally unbearable.
For non-gay youth, the need to assert their own sexual identities as what they are told is “normal” often causes them to lash out at those they believe are gay as a means of proving to the world how very straight they are. Psychologists will tell you that the most severe homophobics are generally so vehemently anti-gay because of an internal fear that he or she is gay.
There’s plenty of guilt to go around in these sorts of tragedies. Those who stand around and watch the bullying without intervening are guilty. Those who do not instill in their children the notion that it is not OK to stand back and do nothing are guilty. Those in authority who brush aside such occurrences with a “boys will be boys” or “kids will be kids” mentality are guilty. And, those who teach their children that there is something wrong with being gay are also guilty.
You may think that simply being of the opinion that being gay is wrong and voicing that opinion to your kids is perfectly fine. After all, you’re not promoting violence, you’re just telling it like it is. But, those sentiments are the first words your children will hear on the subject and with them you may well be laying a foundation on which hate, fear, ignorance and discrimination are built.
The end result is you may be molding your kids into becoming those bullies. Or, you may be contributing to your own child’s hopelessness and death down the line.
I believe that every single adult who ever planted the seed of bias in the minds of all the bullies who drove these kids to their deaths or all the thugs who committed an act of anti-gay violence bears some responsibility for creating the mentalities that led to these tragedies. Young people don’t develop this kind of hatred without the help of the adults around them shaping their minds.
In 1949, Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to a song for “South Pacific” that resonates as much today about attitudes toward gay people as it did then about inter-racial relationships.
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
So, where does the responsibility lie for the creation of all this hatred?
It lies with anyone who tells a scared, insecure gay or lesbian 13-year-old struggling to accept himself or herself that relationships between same sex couples are abnormal and shouldn’t be validated.
It lies with the religious and political right whose oppression and selective use of scripture blasts homosexuality as an abomination.
It lies with any parent or other adult telling gay jokes.
It lies with every parent who tells a child there is something wrong with them and they’d better straighten up because “no child of mine is going to be queer.” A gay man I once knew told his mother he was gay and her response was “I’d have rather seen you dead in your coffin than have you tell me that.”
It lies with anyone who hammers old, judgmental, stereotypical notions of what a man, woman, boy or girl should be into the heads of young people who will either then fear that they don’t live up to those images or who will then judge or victimize other kids who don’t “measure up.”
It lies with everyone who leads a child to believe that some kinds of love are acceptable and some are not, creating the warped perception that love of any kind can be bad and hate of certain sorts can be good.
Maybe it lies with you.
Adults have enormous power over young people and their opinions have an indelible influence on the opinions those young people will form for themselves as a result.
So, yes, all of this is as much your fault as it is the bullies’ and the bashers’ faults if you don’t teach your children acceptance, tolerance and non-discrimination from an early age.