October 7, 2010
Last month, three children ended their lives as a response to harassment and bullying from peers at school. A common denominator in their experience was anti-gay harassment and name-calling.
Asher Brown was 13 when he shot himself in the head. His parents said that other students accused Asher of being gay, "some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said," according to the Houston Chronicle.
Seth Walsh, also 13, was taken off life support a week after he attempted suicide. Walsh, who had come out as gay, "spent a lot of his life frightened," his grandmother told Time magazine. The reason: harassment from other kids in verbal and physical forms due to his mannerisms and appearance.
Billy Lucas (in September) and Justin Aaberg (in July), both 15, also committed suicide recently. Both situations involved anti-gay bullying.
Some Christians think the problem is "the gay agenda." Linda Harvey, in a WorldNetDaily column titled, "Is ‘gay' agenda to blame for teen suicides," blamed the recent suicides on kids coming out as gay, saying:
Kids are urged to "come out" early. That's exactly what several of these young victims did, and such actions are often associated with subsequent early suicide attempts.
One problem with her analysis is that many of the students who committed suicide were not gay. They were perceived to be gay and harassed by anti-gays slurs but they were not being urged to come out. They were just trying to go to school and survive.
Harvey's approach pins the problem on homosexuality. However, with much anti-gay bullying, this is far removed from the real world of the children being harassed. The problem for many children is with the bully who wants to degrade others and chooses gay related slurs to do the job. This stigma is compounded for the young people who are questioning their identity.
These issues have the potential to touch all of our children in school. Most children report either being a bully, being a victim or witnessing bullying at school. To those who think anti-gay bullying is no big deal, read again the words of Brian Pengelly, a youth minister from Canada:
The truth is that when I was a student questioning my own sexual identity in grade 9 I was beat up because of my orientation.
The truth is that I was lucky, because compared to many of my gay friends, I got off easy.
The truth is that I have talked to hundreds of youth across North America who have been called names like "fag", "homo", "sissy", "dyke" and "lesbo" every single day.
The truth is that often teachers and administrators see this happen and do nothing about it.
The truth is that many students (like me) will never report the harassment and violence they face because they are scared and ashamed. So even if and when school administration will listen, they often don't hear about the extent of it.
The truth is that it can often be Christians who perpetrate the bullying and name-calling.
I went to a Christian school. It happened there.
This is not just my experience. This is SO common. I have seen it in schools. I have seen it in churches, I have seen it in youth groups. I have talked to HUNDREDS of young people who have told me their stories.
This is REAL. This must STOP. We are part of the problem. Change starts with us.
Brian's experience is not isolated. This week emails came to my inbox with stories from parents about how their children were bullied in the same manner as described by Brian. The schools were decent and some of the perpetrators went to good churches. Some of the victims were gay and some were not. The common theme was anti-gay slurs were considered acceptable at school, even by Christian students.
Frankly, middle school students who are afraid to go to school don't care what you believe about homosexuality. They want the harassment to stop. I don't blame them. If I was being unfairly harassed over something, I would want someone to make it stop. If I understand the Golden Rule correctly, that would obligate me to return the favor.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He is the producer of the critically acclaimed documentary, I Do Exist, regarding sexual orientation. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. Over 150 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at [email protected].