The LGBT community is feeling the collective grief brought on by the recent tragic suicides of several gay or perceived to be gay teens. Each young person had a bright future taken away from him because of the antics of bullies—kids with low self-esteem who felt the need to inflict shame on the victims in a pathetic attempt to upgrade their own status. This didn't just occur last month; it happens all the time.
While the causes of bullying are complex, certainly the culprits include bad parenting, psychological problems in general, ineffective enforcement of anti-bullying laws if they even exist, or the tormenters just needed to have the power. Hate is a factor, too.
But it is the message put forth by homophobic politicians and religious groups, including clergy of all races, which contributes to the anti-gay culture that allows bullying to proceed unabated.
LGBT kids are told they can be "cured" through religion, even though there is no evidence of such a transformation. Impressionable kids pick up on the message that homosexuality is sinful and shameful. They act on it when they encounter a vulnerable teen. There is little, if any, intervention by others when it occurs. Today, cyber bullying is a dangerous weapon because it can be carried out anonymously or without anyone noticing it.
Most of these suicides following bullying occur in remote or exurban or suburban areas where there are few LGBT support groups available or other LGBT teens with which they can bond. The isolation plus the anti-gay propaganda from the religious right as well as other conservatives create a toxic and dangerous situation.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (www.GLSEN.org) from a 2009 study:
. 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
. 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
. 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as "faggot" or "dyke," frequently or often at school.
. Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
You can also add that studies indicate that LGBT students are much more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.
Society has taken notice of this problem, and some locales have acted on it with laws that prohibit bullying based on certain characteristics—sexual orientation being among them.
About 45 states have some form of anti-bullying laws on the books. One would think that it's a no-brainer to allow all children in school to learn with the same advantages. Yet there are the religious right groups and like-minded bigots who must think bullying is acceptable—a right of passage for young boys.
In an effort to advocate for anti-bullying legislation and school programs, roadblocks are put up by Christian activists who characterize the initiatives as an attempt to "promote homosexuality to kids." Focus on the Family, as an example, has falsely accused gay-rights groups of using tolerance and anti-bullying programs to foster political goals in the schools such as same-sex marriage.
"What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on TrueTolerance.org. "They've started introducing homosexuality lessons, sometimes even sexually graphic information under the cover of tolerance or so-called safe school initiatives or even anti-bullying programs," she said.
These barriers to anti-bullying programs coupled with the messages young people receive from homophobes create a volatile situation.
When you have the then President of the United States, George W. Bush, publicly advocating discrimination against gays and lesbians by opposing marriage equality, it sends a message.
When you have politicians in TV ads implying that an opponent is gay as if it's the worst thing in the world, it sends a message.
When you have a minister standing at the pulpit waving the Bible in one hand and raising his fist with the other saying homosexuality is wrong and sinful and that those who are gay will go to hell, it sends a message.
And when you have religious right wing groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association—who raise millions of dollars in their fundraising communications using scare tactics against homosexuality—ignoring the tragedies of the suicides but instead blame the gay lobby for exploiting them, it sends a message.
Sadly, these messages are heard by misguided adolescents who tragically act on them and influence our vulnerable gay kids to take their own lives.