We Have Miles to Go to End Bullying

2014 ends with another child’s suicide in the news. This time, it’s a 12-year-old boy who couldn’t take the bullying anymore.

    Yes, it was in California, where all the right laws and policies are in place. Still, death seemed better to Ronin Shimizu than enduring his community.

    And what was he doing to bring what’s known as gay-bashing on? Well, it wasn’t about sexual orientation - whom he was loving or having sex with.

    He was only 12. But the taunts from bullies at Folsom Middle School seemed overwhelming.

    This little boy who killed himself on Dec. 3rd, was taunted because he was a cheerleader. A cheerleader – oh, the horror!

    Because of the bullying, his parents had switched him to home-schooling in the sixth grade. And how did the school district’s spokesperson respond?

    “Well, we were aware of allegations of bullying. I can’t speak to specific allegations, but like all allegations, we investigate them fully.”

    That’s it. And those children who were responsible can deal with what they caused. It should haunt them enough to fight against bullying forever.

    This represents an ongoing epidemic. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 with lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth four times more likely, and questioning youth three times more likely, to attempt suicide as straight youth.

    Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one-quarter report having made a suicide attempt. Furthermore, suicide attempts are nearly two times higher among black and Hispanic youth than white youth.

    Notably, transgender people are reminders of the underlying problem. They embody what’s really behind what we call gay-bashing and much general school bullying – gender roles.

    Ronin wasn’t taunted because of his sexual orientation, which no one knew. He was bullied because the dominant peer pressure said that males do not participate in cheerleading, among many activities.

    “Masculinity” says that when they’re old enough, men can ogle girl cheerleaders and that it might even be considered cute if a young boy does. Women are objects to be enjoyed by teenage boys and their male elders.

    But a boy who enjoys being a cheerleader when most cheerleaders are still girls? Now that’s just queer. He must be gay.

    And you know how “gay” boys are treated. Even show biz makes money laughing at the actions of Jack, Cam and Mitchell, and other male characters who do all those “effeminate” things.

    How many laughs in Horrible Bosses 2 were about gay male sex and relationships? Gay male stereotypes might be based on those gay men who aren’t as straight-acting as our culture says men should be, but they provide humor just as Amos and Andy-style stereotypes of black men did in the last century.

    And it’s all about gender. If a boy or a man doesn’t act manly enough, doesn’t kowtow to the culturally learned male gender role, he knows what can happen to him: ridicule and humiliation being the seemingly least threatening responses.

    But even they aren’t harmless - “oh, that’s what kids do” - when you’re a 12-year-old. They lead to isolation and rejection, and, unless allies can be effective counter-forces, to death.

    We’re speaking of boys, but must not minimize what our girls experience. The difference is girls are supposed to take it, supposed to accept a second-rate status, even in this era of feminist gains and women’s rights.

    Yeah, yeah, we tell girls they can be anything they want to be these days, but the dominant message is that they’re supposed to settle for 78 cents when men earn a dollar for the same work. America still doesn’t have an Equal Rights Amendment and we still hear regressive folks arguing as if for some inherent reason that that’s all okay.

    You’d think we’d have gotten over school-bullying by now. Back in October 2000, PFLAG officially launched its Safe Schools Initiative, “From Our House to the School House: A Recipe for Safe Schools,” and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has been fighting bullying issues for 20 years.

    But the bigoted right-wing fights back with claims that ensuring that our schools are free from bullying will mainstream being LGBT - as if that’s a bad thing. And more sickeningly, behind GLSEN’s Straight Ally Week, right-wing darlings like Linda Harvey of Mission America say, aren’t good intentions but “Satan.”

    Harvey proclaimed this year in her radio bulletin for Christian broadcasting stations, that Ally Week “peddles deviance and immorality” that will lead to “discrimination” against Christians in schools. “No responsible parent,” she added, would let their children become “endorsers of homosexuality.”

    “Here’s the real trick of Satan,” she went on, “it’s especially children like yours and mine, raised as Christians, raised to want to be kind to others as God has been merciful to us, who are more vulnerable.”

    Making schools safe for all children, the right-wing talking-points go today, is actually discrimination.

    It persecutes Christians and their children.

    And so we hear on this issue as others the well-scripted strategy of appealing to the Christian right-wing’s persecution complex. They’re the true victims of this and everything else.

    Meanwhile our mantra must continue to be: “We want safe schools for all our children.” And when the right-wing brings up its many distracting issues and objections, our single response is: “But don’t you want our schools to be safe for all our children? We do.”

    Then we repeat and repeat it again as if jumping up and down in the same place. We recognize that making our schools safe from bullying for LGBT youth will also make it safe for every child.

    It will allow the Ronin Shimizu’s to pursue their heart-felt interests without having to look over their shoulder to see if they’ll be picked on because their joy is found through something that doesn’t fit their gender role. And that will also permit every adult, as well, to freely discover their passion in life and live it fully.

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

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