Ignorance kills

So. It wasn’t newsworthy that a 15 year old boy who had been the target of relentless bullying and threats because he was “feminine” was publicly executed by a classmate – nor did the slaying of another “too feminine” teenager, barely a week later, even register a blip in the national media.

Only now, when thousands of community members in Oxnard and thousands more across the country have held vigils, launched websites, written letters, and otherwise recognized the significance of what happened at that school is the execution of a child for having the temerity to honestly express himself worthy of notice by the Washington Post.

The article is really about what we already know: That many schools – in particular middle schools, where gender-based bullying tends to be the most intense – do not “have programs that promote tolerance among students, provide training for educators, or include policies that specifically prohibit harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation.”

Naturally, the usual suspects weigh in with their mewling that sexual orientation is an “inappropriate topic” for students:

“The vast majority of parents believe it’s their role and their responsibility to teach their kids about sexuality,” said Bill Maier, vice president and resident psychologist for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization. “The way you handle the problem is that you crack down on any sort of bullying or aggression on any child. You don’t single out sexual orientation as this somehow special status.”

Oh, my. So many lies in such a small space. First of all, the vast majority of parents support sexuality education in schools, so Bill receives an F for accuracy. His syntax and logic aren’t much better. How could “sexual orientation” possibly be a special status, when everybody has one? Let’s be charitable and acknowledge that that’s not really what he meant.

What we are actually talking about are children who have been given the impression that gay people, or as is more often the case, people who don’t conform to gender expectations, have a special status that allows them to be the target of bullying. This is the problem that needs addressing, the incorrect notion that some people have a special status that renders them unworthy of the same safety, dignity and respect to which other people are entitled. This problem is not, of course, limited to any one flavor of bigotry, but it is the flavor of bigotry we are discussing at present. It is undeniable that Lawrence King’s killer believed that Lawrence had a special status, one that made it acceptable to kill him.

And where do children acquire beliefs like this? From adults, of course. The adults they hear using language like “pervert” and “faggot” and “abomination,” the adults they hear making demeaning, ignorant statements about other people they know nothing about, perhaps around the dinner table. Adults like Saturday Night Live’s Dennis Miller, who “joked” about Brandon Teena‘s murder that “everyone in this case deserved to die,” and adults like the Montgomery County showerheads (h/t to Emproph). This sort of adult hasn’t been showing themselves much publicly in Loudoun any more, but they’re still out there, spreading their toxins. Some of them in the little group that hangs around NoVA Townhall felt emboldened to come out today, in response to this story.

Naturally, the willfully ignorant (but happy to be judgmental anyway) Sophrosyne is “speechless,” but for all the wrong reasons. Did we not just go through a learning process in this community where the core lesson was that what’s important about a family is the love and security it provides, not what it looks like? I’ll admit that I’m somewhat speechless too – but because of the sacrifices that Thomas Beatie is willing to make to become a parent. That fact – that he and his wife really, really want to be parents, and are willing to sacrifice so much – indicates to me that this couple will be outstanding parents. Sophrosyne, your concern is badly misplaced. It’s the people who conceive by accident that we should be worried about. You just don’t get it. You should try learning something you don’t already “know.”

And naturally, Donna Rose does get it:

No matter who you are, this story will likely affect you in some way. You just don’t know it yet. It will refocus discussion on what, exactly, constitutes a man and a woman. It will raise questions about family and marriage that will transcend transgender. It will spark any number of moral debates. There will be pushback and it will not be pretty. It may even cause you to ask questions about your own open-mindedness and acceptance that you thought you had answered but somehow may now realize you haven’t.

Although some are seeing mostly doom and gloom from this I’m not there. In fact, I see rays of light that seem like hope to me. The same way that the disappointments of ENDA got people saying the word “transgender” in places I never imagined hearing it, so too will this situation spark conversation. To be sure, much of the conversation will be negative and will make our blood boil, but that’s the nature of social change. This is how it happens. But there is a positive side as well. We just need to give it time to brew.

So please, go right ahead and talk. The more everybody talks, the more everybody learns – and that’s a good thing, because ignorance kills.

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6 Responses to Ignorance kills

  1. Not Jeff W. says:

    “So please, go right ahead and talk. The more everybody talks, the more everybody learns – and that’s a good thing, because ignorance kills.”

    I don’t know if I agree with that statement but I get where you are trying to go. The question is what should we say when we talk. How do we answer our children when they ask “What’s Gay?” How do we who grew up feeling “confused” about this issue now change the way we think or feel? And how does the GLTC (I think thats correct)educate us without being defensive.

    I’m not kidding here. This issue may not be as easy to discuss as some may think. The problem is that those of us who do not know how to discuss it feel embarassed and those who do feel defensive. What’s the answer?

    What I do know for sure is that as a society we can’t continue to look the other way while young people are being bullied or worse, killed becasue they are Gay.

  2. David says:

    These are good and reasonable questions, and the only answer I can provide is to just do it, acknowledging that mistakes will be made along the way. I really appreciate your honesty about the discomfort. I know these issues are not easy to discuss, especially when GLBT people become defensive and angry.

    The line I try to draw is between someone who is really seeking to understand better – even if they may not agree – and someone who thinks they know more about us than we do. We’ve definitely engaged both types on this blog, although I much prefer the former. So it’s less about discussing things the “right” way and using the right words (how could you be expected to know without having the conversation?) and more about the premise that people come into the conversation with. For example, the kind of insulting attitude that this gentleman projects, that he “knows” what makes a person one gender or another, and transgender people don’t know who they are and have nothing to teach him – this is not conducive to conversation.

    People do get defensive – they’ve been badly hurt in a lot of cases – but I can guarantee that I will moderate any discussion here to give people the benefit of the doubt with regard to motivation and minimize hurt feelings. All sides need to feel safe in order to talk about this stuff, but also realize that sometimes toes will be stepped on.

    I can try to address the question of how to answer children when they ask what “gay” means. I’m going to assume the discomfort here comes from the feeling that the answer must have something to do with sex. It doesn’t, not with a child young enough to be asking this question. We don’t explain any other relationship to young children by talking about sex, and this is no different. When you explain to a child that Uncle so-and-so is getting married, you don’t include in that conversation whether or how they are going to have sex, right? Because that’s their business. People who love each other want to be together. Sometimes the people who love each other are a man and a woman, sometimes two women, etc. That’s generally all the explanation that’s necessary, if you present it that way.

    If what you’re talking about is “gay” used as an epithet by other children, then you could just say that it’s a mean thing to say because it’s putting other people down, and those kids probably don’t even understand what it means. If, for example your kid is blonde, you could ask how it would make them feel if other kids said “that’s soooo blonde” to describe everything in the world that’s distasteful to them.

    What’s most disturbing is that there are people who strenuously object to the project of teaching kids basic respect for GLBT people. What’s the alternative, though?

  3. Not Jeff W. says:

    Wow David, I never thought of that, you are correct when a child ask about being gay, my adult mind assumes they are talking about sex. Holy crap, I actually never realized that. And since the kid I am speaking of does not even know about sex yet, how could they be asking this question. This helps a lot.

    Do you know of any info that can help parents talk to kids and teens about this issue. (I guess I could go the Tango way, ha, ha).

    As far as GLBT people getting defensive, I can understand the reason but think of it this way. Most gay people took years to accept they are gay. From what I understand they may try to hide it, ignore it, etc. When they finally accept the fact they are gay they have had time to really deal with their feeling, emotions etc. However, gay people often want the rest of us to understand the issue and accept it right away.

    If a person who may be gay needed time, and its there own body and experience, why is it hard to believe that the rest of us may need just a little time, space, education etc. I think many people can get to a place of acceptance and understanding, but if the GLBT community becomes defensive, impatient etc. the conversation stops. Your thoughts?

  4. David says:

    The best resource for helping families is PFLAG. There are three support groups that meet in our general area: Reston, Manassas and Winchester. See our upcoming events page (currently linked at the top of our home page – we are working on some site renovations) for details. Otherwise, the Metro DC PFLAG website has all kinds of help available.

    Regarding the need for patience and understanding for family members, I think you’re right, and part of what groups like PFLAG do is help the GLBT person involved to see that. It’s not just a one-way street of expecting the other family members to get to a place of acceptance (which in some cases can take years, if they’re even willing to try). That said, the vast majority of GLBT people are not part of any kind of organization, are not public spokespersons or activists – we’re just people like everyone else, with the full range of strengths and weaknesses. I’ve seen examples of extraordinary patience, for example in the children of prominent anti-gay activists like Regina Griggs. Her son says that he loves her, he understands that she’s angry and confused, and he believes she will come to accept him as he is some day. I’m sure there are examples on the other end of the spectrum as well.

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