One Step Forward, One Step Back

Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional in California. That is absolutely a step in the right direction. I ultimately think the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and, if the court ends up hearing the case, I hope they will also end up making the right decision.

While watching the rejoicing on Twitter and Google+ about the Prop 8 decision, I was reminded that I had finished reading a heart-wrenching Rolling Stone article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely about a town in Minnesota that’s been driving its gay teens to suicide. Go read it, but be warned it’s an emotional article and it’s difficult to get through. I remember being in high school… kids are cruel. I just don’t remember kids being that cruel. After her friend killed herself, one student transferred schools to attempt to start fresh and escape the bullying and was faced with this:

Her very first day of eighth grade, eight boys crowded around her on the bus home. “Hey, Brittany, I heard your friend Sam shot herself,” one began.

“Did you see her blow her brains out?”

“Did you pull the trigger for her?”

“What did it look like?”

“Was there brain all over the wall?”

“You should do it too. You should go blow your head off.”

Seriously? Who is raising these kids? Who in their right mind, at any age, thinks it’s ok to tell someone they should blow their head off? Has bullying gotten worse than when I was in high school (about fifteen years ago)? Are small towns worse (I went to school in the suburbs of a decent-sized city)? Is the U.S. more polarized about LGBT issues (I’m Canadian)?

What was even more shocking about this story is the inaction from the faculty at any of these schools when kids were bullied. The policy they had in place basically made all the teachers afraid for their jobs if they did anything to come to the bullied teens’ defence.

At the close of the seven-month-long sex-ed review, Anderson and her colleagues wrote a memo to the Anoka-Hennepin school board, concluding, “The majority of parents do not wish to have there [sic] children taught that the gay lifestyle is a normal acceptable alternative.” Surprisingly, the six-member board voted to adopt the measure by a four-to-two majority, even borrowing the memo’s language to fashion the resulting districtwide policy, which pronounced that within the health curriculum, “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle.”

The policy became unofficially known as “No Homo Promo” and passed unannounced to parents and unpublished in the policy handbooks; most teachers were told about it by their principals. Teachers say it had a chilling effect and they became concerned about mentioning gays in any context. Discussion of homosexuality gradually disappeared from classes. “If you can’t talk about it in any context, which is how teachers interpret district policies, kids internalize that to mean that being gay must be so shameful and wrong,” says Anoka High School teacher Mary Jo Merrick-Lockett. “And that has created a climate of fear and repression and harassment.”

Nine kids killed themselves in two years in the district. Let that sink in for a minute. The school board decided to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the bullying wasn’t going on. When teachers heard a kid get called “fag” or “dyke”, they ignored it because the policy said to ignore it.

Once again, the religious right was promoting the idea that it was the kids’ fault for being gay. They could avoid being bullied if they would just not be gay. Who know it was that simple? (In case it’s not obvious, I am being sarcastic here).

I’m always conflicted when these situations are brought up. I think it’s human nature to want to assign blame but I’m never sure who should be blamed for these tragedies. I think the schools and teachers have a responsibility to protect children while they are at school. So a kid should not have to walk the halls of their school and hear discriminatory slurs (whether they be about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc). Faculty should stop that and discipline the kids accordingly with the behaviour. In this day and age though, the bullying extends beyond school into social media or even just in person off school grounds, after hours. The thing is, where are the parents? Before any of you jump down my throat, I don’t mean the parents of the bullied teens. I don’t think it’s possible to know what’s going on in your kid’s head. I think kids that age want to protect their parents to a certain degree. They also don’t want their parents to think that they are weak so they keep quiet. There’s nothing a parent can do in that situation. You can’t read your kid’s mind. But what about the parents of the bullies? Why aren’t these parents raising their kids better? Why are they not teaching their kids that it’s not ok to treat others like pond scum?

The answer of course is that the parents are sometimes just as bad as the kids. They are teaching their kids that it’s ok to treat gays and lesbians this way. This is where the disconnect happens for me. I’ve never understood how people can treat other people in such a disgusting manner because of something that is beyond that other person’s control.  How can mistreating someone like that be considered acceptable. Religious people constantly ask how atheists can possibly be moral if they don’t have god and religion to guide them but a situation likes this makes me wonder what their definition of morality is. Their religion is their excuse to mistreat people.

The 9th Circuit Court took a step forward when they made the ruling on Prop 8. Unfortunately, religion keeps society walking backwards. We should not stand for that.

Hat tip to PZ Myers for the Rolling Stone article.

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