October 09, 2010
The media has been awash in news of recent teen suicides, teens literally bullied to death. Much of the mainstream press is reporting there were five or six teen suicides in the back-to-school month of September, all the result of anti-gay bullying. Sadly, that number is much higher. After reports from my readers, and after much research on local news sites, it is clear there were at least ten male teen suicides across the country in the month of September alone. There are reports that almost all of these teens -- many who had either come out as gay or were perceived as gay -- were bullied, and most if not all of the bullying was anti-gay bullying.
But let's be honest. What enables and maintains this culture of hate are groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) which exists to tell America that gays and lesbians aren't good enough for marriage. Or groups like Focus on the Family (FOF) which exists to tell America that gays and lesbians aren't good enough for anything, and even has a "pro-bullying" website, "True Tolerance," dedicated to teaching parents how to rid their schools of anti-bullying programs.
These are but two hate groups, groups whose real missions are neither to "protect" marriage, nor to "focus" on the family.
The Southern Poverty Law Center five years ago listed "a dozen of today's most influential anti-gay groups," including several they today classify as hate groups: American Vision, Family Research Institute, and the Traditional Values Coalition. Others, like the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Minnesota Family Council, and the Alliance Defense Fund should qualify as well.
Anti-gay groups, from the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family, to the Family Research Institute, and the Traditional Values Coalition, to local churches and other houses of worship which preach intolerance and hatred against the LGBTQ community, regularly inject hatred, oppression, and fear into America's families.
It's no wonder, as comedian and activist Sarah Silverman says, "Dear America, when you tell gay Americans they can't serve their country openly, or marry the person they love, you're telling that to kids." She says we shouldn't be "shocked wondering where all these bullies are coming from," because "they learned it from watching you."
America's children are under attack. But what difference is there between the schoolyard tormentor who literally bullies to death a gay or questioning youth, and their adult counterparts -- like the National Organization for Marriage, or Focus on the Family -- shrouded in Orwellian nomenclature, who provide them with the ammunition?
Kathy Griffin calls this "trickle-down homophobia." And she's right.
A sixteen-year-old lesbian who says she just came out to her family recently wrote on my website, "I wish my family will stop treating me like im a freak and love me the way they use to again. Iv been screamed at, emotionaly abused, called names like faggot , bitch , whore. Iv been told i have aids because i had sex with a female. Im trying to stay strong but sometimes you need help from others who been through the same."
Her words, the depiction of her treatment by her own family is exactly what children fear most when they even think about coming out to their families. For many, coming out can be a growing experience for the entire family. For other children, coming out can lead to homelessness and a path to suicide.
Gay and lesbian children and teens, even those who are merely "questioning," are between three and six times as likely to attempt or to die by suicide than their heterosexual peers. The radical and religious right, and groups like the Minnesota Family Council (MFC) would have you believe that is because these youngsters have made poor choices or are defective, that "they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle." In point of fact, the pain that drives these young people to suicide is not caused by being different, it is caused by others who tell them they are "different," and treat them as different.
These ten teens who succumbed to suicide are the ones we know about. Some had full support from their families. But there are countless others every year, hidden from the public by shamed families, too embarrassed to acknowledge either their own failure to see or address the problem, too consumed with guilt for having been unable or unwilling to prevent the bullying, or, sadly, for some, too embarrassed to even acknowledge that their child was "different."
Reading the messages written about these teens on Facebook pages and funeral home websites is heartbreaking. So is reading some of the "code" in the obituaries. No doubt, there are many of this nation's teenagers who love going to church with their girlfriends, but no doubt there are many teens who succumb to suicide because, much to their parents' distress, they love neither church nor a girlfriend.
This "trickle-down homophobia" has to come from somewhere. The torment and bullying doesn't start with parents, or even with the school-yard bully.
So, who are the real tormentors? Who is really to blame? It's time for America to start making the connection. It is unimaginably tragic that so many teens had to succumb to hopeless desperation and suicide for there to be an awakening in America. But I think the tide may be turning. I think America is starting to realize who the real bullies, the real tormentors are. They are the ones with a non-profit tax license, who are using it as a license to kill.