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Fighting the Christian Right’s War Against Anti-Bullying Programs

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by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor

Boys want to prove they are men by dominating girls and harassing those who they perceive to be gay. "Things are changing, but there's still a lot of bias and homophobia out there," said Mark Friedman, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, who believes young men need to be taught that they can define themselves as men in different ways.: "One way of being a man is to help people and intervene when others are being harassed or attacked," he said.

Friedman has done research to prove that, while proportionally far more LGBT youth are bullied in schools, the number of straight youths who are attacked because they are perceived to be gay is much higher -- up to four or five times the number of those who are abused for being gay.

Just last month in a school district near Tampa, Fla., a student, 18, attempted suicide because of incessant taunting. As was reported here, Zachery Grey had had a girlfriend, but that didn't deter students in his school from harassing him.

Enforcement Varies
Even within the states that have anti-bullying laws specifically protecting LGBT students, enforcement varies. As an example, Friedman cited a report issued several years ago by the Seattle Safe Schools Coalition that compared anti-bullying programs school districts were required to implement under a Washington State law.

"The reality was that there was not that much going on outside of Seattle," Friedman said. "What school districts are required to do and what they actually do are often two different things."

To counteract the religious right, Friedman recommended that LGBT activists and allies meet with school boards, religious organizations and others to emphasize the seriousness of the bullying problem.

"Give them scientific studies showing how disproportionally gay youth are abused," Friedman suggested. "The religious right really distorts that data. They claim it's not a problem."

He also advised building relationships with policy-makers. "Once they form long-term relationships with LGBTs, they see the seriousness of the situation," he explained.

Best Counter-Tactic: The Truth
The truth is the best weapon against attacks on anti-bullying programs, PFAW's Keegan added. "The best weapon the LGBT rights community has to fight them is the facts," he told EDGE.

"Supporters of LGBT rights need to be very clear about the real harm that anti-gay bullying does to kids and the clear benefits that anti-bullying programs provide," he said. "There is no such thing as a comprehensive anti-bullying program that doesn't protect gay kids. The religious right knows this -- we just need to make sure parents, teachers, administrators and lawmakers know it, too."

Because state anti-bullying laws vary and most don't protect LGBT students specifically, Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, believes it's past the time to pass federal legislation, according to Jody Huckaby."We have a patchwork of laws in place and that's not sufficient to stem the tide against bullying all students," he told EDGE.

Is a Federal Law the Answer?
Two bills introduced in Congress last year, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, do address that problem. SNDA covers all students and specifically enumerates sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as well as discrimination by race, religion, disability and language.

Last November, PFLAG held a lobbying day in Washington, to secure support for the bills. "We received word from the offices of legislators who attended that they would sign on because of the sad reality of bullying in schools," Huckaby reported.

Educating federal lawmakers is raising the profile of the bullying problem, he said. "More often than not, they say they understand," said Huckaby. "They say they will go back to their districts and educate their constituents. This is an issue that resonates with many of them. We are going to continue to push, educate and inform members of Congress through our chapter network about why these bills are important."

Because the federal government hasn't been tracking incidents of harassment, PFLAG launched a program with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that's called Claim Your Rights. "It provides a confidential venue for parents, school teachers and administrators to report incidents of harassment to the federal government so it can provide resources," Huckaby explained.

Corporate Support
To support PFLAG's efforts in schools, Johnson & Johnson and Walgreens have launched a nationwide anti-bullying campaign called Care with Pride. The home-products company, along with the drugstore chain, is supporting PFLAG's efforts in schools across the country, with money, videos a "Safe Schools Action Pack," visible store decals and visibility at Pride festivals.

Such corporate support is important, not only for the dollars they provide, but also because it shows how mainstream anti-gay bullying has become. As such, it is an effective counter to the Christian groups' maintaining that such programs are some sort of Fifth Column meant to drag youth down to degeneracy.

Christian Right Plays the Bullying Victims Card
Lately, the Christian right has taken on a new tactic: maintaining that it's actually Christian students who are the targets of bullying. Stories like this one on the ultra-rightwing "news" site Townhall is typical of the strategy. A particular subject of their complaints is Dan Savage the nationally syndicated sex columnist who launched the highly successful "It Gets Better" series after a teen suicide.

The Christian right apparently is taking the tack that playing defensive is sometimes the right position. As this article in Time shows, the Christian right is even using the pretext of anti-bullying to promulgate legislation that actually enables Christians to bully others. The Democratic leader of Michigan's State Senate cites a proposed bill: "Bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it."

The writer of the Time article, Amy Sullivan, wrote that "social conservatives consider themselves the real victims"; and that they "believe that efforts to protect gays from assault, discrimination or bullying impinge on their religious freedom to express and act on their belief that homosexuality is an abomination." Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law late last year.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].


  • GAG'EM, 2012-06-07 13:57:27

    Clearly these right-wing Christians believe that the Right to Life ends at birth if you are a gay child.

  • , 2012-06-13 13:01:03

    There are other things listed as abominationas that they are not mentioning. The word in the origanal languages used at the time for homosexuality is never used in the Bible.

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