Yesterday, we found out about the fourth teen suicide this month after bullying and/or harassment by their school peers for being gay or perceived to be gay:
- Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge last week after his roommate broadcasted a video of him hooking up with a boy on the internet. Tyler was a talented violinist. In response, the LGBT community at Rutgers has been protesting for safe space housing for queer students.
- 13-year old Asher Brown of Houston (picture to the right), TX shot himself in the head last week after 18 months of bullying by fellow students, and after 18 months of complaints by his parents for the school to take action — with little to no response.
- Seth Walsh was also 13, and died on Tuesday after being on life support for hanging himself. He was reportedly tormented on a daily basis by his schoolmates. Here’s a (very upsetting) video made by a family member with the hopes that he would wake up.
- Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself earlier this month, on the same day he was suspended for cursing back at girls who were harassing him, which was — according to friends and family — a regular occurrence.
I’ve never really been a fan of the use of the words, “tolerance” and “intolerance” when talking about marginalized groups. Folks should have “tolerance” towards people who are “different” from them. “Intolerance” is bad. To me, it always seemed a very watered-down way to talk about “sensitive” issues when what people really mean when they say it are the more scary words tiptoed around: Hate. Bigotry. Homophobia. But considering what we’ve seen over the past month, this is scary. This is the reality that are leading youth in this country to kill themselves.
So maybe the word should be used in its other context — how about flipping the script and looking at the tolerance of hate by our culture, schools and elected officials? Why do school officials tolerate anti-LGBT bullying? Why aren’t there anti-LGBT bullying policies in place in the majority of states in this country? Why are TV shows still airing anti-gay and transphobic jokes? Why did CNN not even mention that Tyler Clementi was gay?
A recent example is how Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell has been blogging against and publicly harassing Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Shirvell puts up swastika signs on top of gay pride flag images, contending that Armstrong is promoting a “radical homosexual agenda.” And what does Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox have to say or do about it? Not much besides say that Shirvell’s “personal opinions are his and his alone and do not reflect the views of the Michigan Department of Attorney General [...] But his immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.” In other words, not cool at all! (But not my problem.)
This really isn’t about being against a word — what I’m against is people ignoring the fact that these tragedies are not just about bullying, it’s not just about violations of privacy or cyberstalking (while these are all problems that obviously contribute). It’s about the fact that people turn a blind eye to the reality that youth in this country are dying because of anti-LGBT messages that bullies are emulating — from adults with a platform like Shirvell and from this larger culture of fear and hatred. It’s time America holds itself accountable before more lives are lost.