Sunday, October 03, 2010

Trickle-down bullying

These last few weeks have been filled with pain and sorrow for many in the LGBT communities following a recent spate of teen suicides resulting from gay kids being relentlessly bullied (or kids that were just perceived to be gay). I wasn't sure what to write about it; it felt so overwhelming. And it's just a drop in the bucket of all the lesbian/gay/trans/bi/queer youth who have attempted or completed a suicide.

I'd just written my post about Focus on the Family's campaign against anti-bullying measures in schools and then all this came to light. So it felt particularly painful and heavy to me.

I was mulling this over when I read with great interest a blog post from Exodus Vice President Randy Thomas, where he tells his followers that they should "Step Up and Speak Out" against bullying.

Sounds great, right? I mean, Exodus encouraging people to stop bullying gay folks? What's not to like?

Randy writes this particularly touching paragraph: "We must come to the aid and defend life no matter where it is being exploited and dehumanized. We must speak out against bullying behavior. We must intentionally edify, bless and build up others to counteract the hurtful influences of this world."

It sounds beautiful, but unless it represents a true shift for Exodus, it is just PR. Sadly, the words mean nothing until I see a change in the continuing rhetoric.

These words are coming from the mind of someone who actively has worked to make it more difficult for LGBT people to live lives free from dehumanization, harassment, and yes, bullying. This comes from someone who oversees, according to the Exodus website, more than 170 "professional mental health and church-based member agencies across North America." Over at Beyond Ex-Gay, we have consistently heard from people who have had contact with many of these ministries that they have been harmed. There have been people who have consistently complained of dehumanization and abuses at several ministries and the claims have not been investigated, and the participants have not been listened to.

Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus, has on more than one occasion called gay love a "counterfeit" and also said the gay community is a "counterfeit" community and that being gay is an addiction and bondage. Alan and Randy both oppose hate crime legislation (which includes crimes against LGBT people based on orientation/gender identity). They regularly share their testimonies in an effort to influence legislation pertaining to LGBT issues. They talk about change in ambiguous language meant to mislead, and disregard the stories of those who nearly killed themselves trying to change their orientation, and who now live truthful, whole and authentic lives.

It causes me to recall a conversation I had with an ex-gay leader who asserted his wish that we would go back to time when gay people felt ashamed of being gay. When your wish is for people to feel shame about their lives, when you want them to live in fear and silence, that is dehumanization. When you want to roll the clock back and go back to a time when people suffered deeply and lived lives of desperation, humiliation and shame, you are being a bully.

Randy continues, "People, regardless of who they are or what they believe, need friends who bless and defend not expose and betray. We have to fight selfishness and exploitation with selflessness, respect and unconditional love. We must default to having a humble and high regard toward another person’s soul."

When people hear that our love and lives are "counterfeit" or a "delusion;" when they hear that we are broken, sick and damaged people; when they hear that gay people can change (without "change" being fully explained - i.e., a change in behavior, not orientation); when they hear that people "choose" to come out of homosexuality without understanding that being gay is not a choice; when they hear lies about the lifespans of gay individuals or hear that our lives are empty, yet full of drugs, disease, alcohol, addiction and rampant sexual encounters, it becomes easier for them to hate us.

It might not be the words "fag" or "dyke" or "queer" but it's the words "broken" and "emotionally dependent" and "bound up in sin" and "deadly lifestyle" and "bondage and addiction" and "counterfeit." It might not be an actual blow but it's a systematic tearing down of the worth of lesbian, transgender, bisexual and gay people. In short, it's bullying behavior. And don't tell me that it doesn't trickle down to our vulnerable youth with some very tragic consequences.

The artwork above is a piece of mine titled "Self Preservation." There are days that I feel the need for a way to insulate myself against the bullying words and actions of those around me. Most days I am strong enough to exist without that extra insulation, but there are some days....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Focus on the Family and the anti-bullying gay agenda.

As I was driving to work today, Theresa told me about an editorial in our weekly Aurora Sentinal, which made me think perhaps another blog post was in order (two in the span of one week? I know, brace yourselves).

The editorial, entitled "The real bullies at Focus on the Family" talked about Focus on the Family's recent assertion that "the anti-bullying issue is being “highjacked by (gay) activists.” It's a clear editorial that calls out Focus on the Family for its efforts to attack anti-bullying programs because they feel it promotes a "gay agenda".

The Denver post also ran a news article about the issue and talked about bullying statistics.
"About 30 percent of American sixth-to- 10th-graders report being involved in bullying — either as a victim or bully, according to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's three times more common if you're gay, Byard said. GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey found that almost nine out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students experienced harassment. Almost 61 percent felt unsafe in school. And 22 percent reported being physically assaulted in schools."

These are sobering statistics and I don't care who you are. That should make your heart hurt just a little.

This issue is important to me because I was bullied and harassed in school for 5 miserable years (6th through 10th grade). Not because I was out and gay (I didn't even know women could be gay at that point of my life!) but because I was different. Was I different because I was gay and had differences that people couldn't quite put a finger on? Perhaps. For whatever reason, I just never fit in and I was miserable on a daily basis and cried myself to sleep more nights than I can remember. (As an aside, all of this happened in Christian schools. The best years I ever had of my school career were the two years I spent in public school.)

When I was in the ex-gay movement years later, this was pointed at as a potential reason that I was gay (among many other "root" causes we discovered). Ex-gay programs are full of people who were tormented in schools, not necessarily for being out as gay, since many of us would have been horrified at that thought, but merely because we were different...perhaps expressing non-gender-conforming behaviors. Boys were targeted for being sissies, and girls for being tomboys. Many of my ex-gay friends had been called names because they were perceived as gay, whether they admitted that they were at the time or not (most of them didn't).

I remember vividly when the shootings at Columbine happened, because here in Colorado, it was a REALLY really big deal. It wasn't abstract. I knew people who knew people in the school. My therapist at the time counseled some of the family members who lost children. I was in a group once with an ex-gay woman who had known one of the killers for his whole childhood. When people started talking about how the shooters were possibly bullied and that is why they attacked, it struck a chord with many of us. While we didn't condone the violence, most of us, it seemed, knew what it was like to feel harassed and bullied and the adolescent desire to give it back better than we got. Many of us, it turned out, had envisioned some type of revenge on our bullies. Yet we thought what had happened was awful. It was an emotional time for many in the ex-gay group I attended with a lot of conflicting feelings.

If you read ex-gay testimonies, you'll often read about people being bullied in schools and the damaging effect it had on the person, and some of them will point to that as a reason they decided that maybe they were gay (of course, it's not as simple as that in real life, but testimonies often are a little light on the complexities of the situation). In my ex-gay days, I was told that bullying by peers is a prime reason someone could become gay, because if a person was bullied, harassed, and rejected by same-sex peers, that person might then always seek the approval of the same sex, and then that need might become "sexualized" (a mysterious happening that was often an explanation for "the gay" - such and such need had become "sexualized.") If a person was bullied by opposite sex peers, then that might drive you right into the arms of a same-sex person, again with a need that was sexualized. As I write this, I realize the mental gymnastics we all went through to find something we or Jesus could "fix."

Anyway, my point is this: If so many ex-gays have been bullied for their sexual orientation, and they see this as one of the causes for their homosexuality, why in the world would they ever want to stop anti-bullying initiatives that specifically deal with matters of sexual orientation or gender identity? Why shouldn't kids know that it's not OK to call kids names? Especially "sissy" or "faggot" or "dyke." Or that it's not ok to make fun of the kid that has two moms or two dads? If the theories of the ex-gays are right, that bullying in schools can cause someone to perceive themselves as gay, and therefore lead to them living a gay life, isn't that enough of an argument that bullying should be stopped?

I remember talking to an ex-gay friend of mine who said that he actually supported non-discrimination acts and laws because although he no longer considered himself gay, he was still susceptible to discrimination because he was perceived to be gay. He said, "the guy on the corner who might attack me because I am more effeminate than many men will not stop to ask me if I am ex-gay or gay. He'll just attack and I'll get just as hurt." Wise words. Words that I wish more ex-gays and ex-gay activists (as well as the folks at Focus on the Family) would contemplate.

It seems like however you come at the issue, from the point that gay is OK, or that it is not and should be changed by whatever means possible, we should be able to agree that bullying is bad for kid's psyches. And that bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation has long-lasting consequences for many people.

If the "gay agenda" is about wanting all kids to grow up as valued and nurtured and not bullied or harassed, then sign me up. It would have made a world of difference for me. I still would be gay, but I'd have a few less scars to worry about.

Note: For a great take on the Day of Silence and bullying from someone who is ex-gay (although I don't think she likes that label), check out Disputed Mutability's post here.