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How Suicides Serve the Anti-Gay Agenda

Jim Burroway

October 3rd, 2010

From Oklahoma City:

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Some time back, I asked this question of Focus On the Family and other groups like them: “When Does Opposition to Suicide Prevention Equal Murder?”

I think that with Focus On the Family’s response to what are now being called “The September Suicides,” we have that answer. The “when” is now. Opposition to suicide prevention equals murder.

I was reminded of that question three times today. First, with the video you see above. And then again when I read this heartfelt and thought-provoking piece by Exodus International vice-president Randy Thomas — that is, until I read where he re-posted Exodus’ policy statement on bullying:

In addition, every individual deserves equal protection and every offender should receive equal punishment. We call upon other organizations concerned with preserving the essential equality of all individuals to exhibit impartiality in their policies, rather than singling out some for special treatment. [Emphasis mine]

That last phrase serves a very specific reason: Anti-gay groups like Exodus International and others routinely oppose anti-bullying programs which mention gay people, on the theory that if you don’t talk about a problem, it will no longer exist. That’s the rationale behind Focus’ opposition to anti-bullying programs that talk about gay people.

But of course, we know the problem exists precisely because the specific problem isn’t being addressed in schools. The problem exists because school administrators turn a blind eye to gay kids being bullied. It exists because very public people give a green light to bullying. And it exists because people create an atmosphere — administrators, teachers, parents, preachers, and ex-gay program vice-presidents — where they only speak of gay people as problems to be dealt with, struggles to be cured, “choices” to be condemned, and any notion of positive futures to be denied.

And the problem exists precisely because gay kids, along with gay people in general, are already being singled out for special treatment. The special treatment exists in the prohibitions and discrimination written into our laws, where we can’t marry, we can’t serve in the military, we can be fired from our jobs without cause, and in many states we cannot even claim our spouse’s corpse. And this special treatment exists beyond the law and into the hearts of those who protest that we are a threat to society, our families, our children and ourselves.

Against this backdrop, you can see how suicide may begin to look logical for a tormented individual. It becomes an acceptance of an open and unspoken (and yes, sometimes a spoken) invitation to just go ahead and kill yourself and be done with it. After all, if people like Focus and Exodus don’t want us to actually name the problem in schools, then the problem for these kids isn’t that there are bullies in school. The problem is that these kids are gay. And that is precisely the message that anti-gay groups would have for kids, parents, administrators, politicians and everyone else, to the exclusion of all other messages.

I think it is time to turn the question into a declarative: Opposition to anti-bullying programs and suicide prevention equals murder.

If you don’t believe it, then here is my third reminder for today. It’s from Dan Savage:

The religious right points to the suicide rate among gay teenagers—which the religious right works so hard to drive up (see above)—as evidence that the gay lifestyle is destructive. It’s like intentionally running someone down with your car and then claiming that it isn’t safe to walk the streets.

Which is why I argued that every gay teen suicide is a victory for the religious right. Because, you see, your side does use those suicides to “perpetuate [your] agenda.” Tony Perkins and all those other oddly effete defenders of “Christian values” and “traditional marriage” will point to this recent spate of gay teen suicides to argue against gay marriage, anti-bullying programs, against allowing gay people to serve in the military—basically, they’ll gleefully use these tragedies to justify what they like to call the “Christian, pro-family agenda.”

Savage added that profound insight as a quick post script to an already outstanding post. Read the whole thing.

Comments

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grantdale
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

No, Jim, I see where you’re going but you’re avoiding what is occurring. And I know you know. So, I’ll rephrase it.

“Opposition to anti-bullying programs and suicide prevention equals {willingness to accept} murder {and suicide will eventually occur because of the hatred they spread}.

With exceptions, these people don’t want to actually murder us, or directly cause us to be murdered. That would get their lily-white hands dirty. That aspect is vital.

Mostly all they want to do is make us feel so dreadful that we will stop our (claimed ungodly) behaviour.

Suicide is mere collateral damage. Sad, unfortunate, but to be expected, collateral damage.

Most of them would feel sadder if they dropped their Double Angus Burger on the way back to their car than if they heard that some 12 year old had killed themself after years of anti-gay abuse.

grantdale
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Sorry Jim, I didn’t mean to sound so severe toward you. It wasn’t meant that way.

I’ve just spent the week convincing a 15 year old girl in country NSW that her life is worth more than she thinks, and dealing with a revolting mother of a 14 year old boy who thinks his life is doomed.

Followed up by a review of all the news from BTB, and XGW, and TWO etc.

I’m not in a good mood tonight. Apologies.

(and ps… thankfully some of us have partners who gently remind us “Is that what you intended to say?” from time to time. Who would I be without that pest of a man?)

Steve
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

A few other thoughts about the religious right and their stance on anti-bullying programs…..

I have come across numerous comments made by conservative Christians that efforts to combat bullying are never going to work because bullying is a part of growing up and builds character. I am not kidding. The attitude is that “oh well, kids will be kids”.

Recent comments by Focus on the Family, a prominent force in my state of Colorado, offer tepid support to anti-bullying efforts but always tie these statements to other comments. In the same breath they are quick to point out that it is not okay to promote the idea to young people that being gay is acceptable. Furthermore, I get the sense that Focus on the Family and their conservative allies will never issue any statements actually acknowledging that a young person could be gay. Their assumption is that all young people are born with a heterosexual orientation.

In my view, a true Christian would show absolute outrage about the suicides that have occurred. I don’t see a lot of compassion or outrage. I see delayed responses from these so called holy people with the death of a young person being one more impediment in disrupting the mantra that being gay is wrong. The outrage just isn’t there. What is there is a lot of frantic posturing on how to come across as concerned but not allow one to look like they are capitulating to any “gay agenda”. That is really their first priority.

There are often comments made about how younger generations are more accepting of homosexuality and that it is becoming a non-issue with them. That may partly be true, but there is a long way to go. Case in point….the phrase that seems to be heard frequently among both younger and older people now: “That’s so gay!”. And it’s not said in a joking manner. How would “That’s so black!” or “That’s so Mexican!” go over?

Patrick
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

As further evidence of what has been stated (and Dan Savage is 100% correct on this), on September 30 Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink website posted two articles:

1. “The Truth about GLSEN’s School Climate Report” by Candi Cushman

http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/09/the-truth-about-glsens-school-climate-report/

2. “Understanding Male Homosexuality – God’s Power to Change Lives, Part 1″ by Jeff Johnston

http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/09/understanding-male-homosexuality-gods-power-to-change-lives-part-1/

Don’t think for a moment they weren’t aware of what was going on and that people would be having a look at their website. They were deliberately using the suicides to promote their anti-gay agenda and politics.

Ben in Oakland
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Jim wrote: ” Anti-gay groups like Exodus International and others routinely oppose anti-bullying programs which mention gay people, on the theory that if you don’t talk about a problem, it will no longer exist. That’s the rationale behind Focus’ opposition to anti-bullying programs that talk about gay people.

“Let’s just protect all students” and “We don’t need to talk about homophobia and heterosexist (read: wholly imaginary) superiority” is really just another way of trying to enforce the closet without appearing to be a homobgiot.

Sorry– no closets. If I could out everyone in the world tomorrow, I’d do it, except that I suspect that there would be precious few wholly heterosexual people left to be surprised.

Basic homophobia, whether of the hatred variety or the superiority variety, is deeply ingrained in many people. And they will find a way to condone their behaviour, even if that behaviour, if applied to other identifiable groups, is clearly idenifiable for what it is.

Richard Rush
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

For Religious Right (RR) groups such as Focus, the perpetuation of bullying, torment, and humiliation is actually an essential part of the strategy in their war on gays. After all, if that behavior stopped, it would signal that the RR groups have lost the war. The stories of the victims help them keep score, and each death is a “home run,” despite any lip-service calculated to make themselves appear righteously concerned. The only potential risk (for the RR) with some of the deaths is that the famously biased MS media might “distort” the story, and thereby garner some sympathy for the victims from the general public. Is all of that too over-the-top cynical?

I don’t think so. The RR is NOT particularly pro-life for functioning human beings outside the RR world. They are just pro-embryo/fetus, and pro-vegetative-state. Otherwise they are the most pro war, pro capital punishment, and anti stem-cell research of any demographic in the USA.

The fact is that the RR has a vast network of churches, organizations, and websites through which to mount a massive campaign that could virtually end this horror. But instead, they only use that network to actively perpetuate the horror.

One of the fascinating things about religion is that the people who are most serious/fanatical about it are disproportionately among the most vile, cruel, and depraved people on earth. There is a chicken/egg question there, but the answer doesn’t really matter much. The Christian and Islamic holy books contain all the backup anyone needs to validate their inclinations to cruelty. There is simply nothing quite like having the backing of a god to validate your pursuits. So, it hardly matters if one is directly motivated by religion, or if it merely validates them, because the end-results are the same.

Patrick
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Religious anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family believe anti-gay bullying would stop if people would just stop being gay. They blame the victims.

They believe people don’t have to be gay. Therefore, if people are bullied for being gay, then it’s really their own fault. If people commit suicide because they are being bullied for being gay, well, they didn’t have to be gay and could have “overcome” it if they really wanted to.

So, in their mind, the real problem is not that gays are bullied, it’s that gays don’t come to their senses and be straight. Doing so would solve all the problems for everyone, especially anti-gay Christians. They would no longer have to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.

customartist
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

The very promotion of the concept of Gays “being unholy” is a part of the ipitus for bullying in the first place.

We must be diligent in pointing out this Un-Christian-like behavior, by arrogant groups intent upon pushing their agendas upon society, which rezults in the deaths of children.

With Each Death, Focus on the Family and others have missed yet another golden opportunity to join hands with civil society, rather than fueling animus or remaining silent. THEY must be EXPOSED with every death.

EZam
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

The MS media is too nice with the RR, despite the latter’s claim that the former is biased against it. They need to flat-out tell them they are WRONG; forget “respecting the beliefs of others” if they are going to cause harm or go against logic.

AJD
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I agree with grantdale… While there are plenty of religious right people who probably do want to see us dead (Westboro, the Reconstructionist movement, probably Scott Lively), their real goal with all their opposition to GLBT rights laws is to simply make life as miserable and unbearable as possible for us. If we can be fired from our jobs, have difficulty getting hate crimes against us prosecuted, get bullied and can’t find any legal protection for our relationships, then maybe we won’t want to be GLBT anymore — that’s their thinking. But as grantdale said, if a few gay kids kill themselves, it’s an acceptable loss.

Ray
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

DEAF PERSON HERE!!!!!

Would someone provide a synopsis of what the video is talking about?

Thanks in advance.

Ray

Ray
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I grew up in Oklahoma City, attended 13 elementary schools there, and it was THERE that I was bullied as a kid in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn’t know I was gay but I certainly did come to understand my gender nonconformist inclinations annoyed the hell out of my peers and parents and I was attacked and brutalized for it. That’s why I’m interested in knowing about the contents of this video. I’m deaf and I’d appreciate it if someone would provide a short description of the video. Thanks in advance.

Ray

Tommy
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

The MS media is too nice with the RR, despite the latter’s claim that the former is biased against it. They need to flat-out tell them they are WRONG; forget “respecting the beliefs of others” if they are going to cause harm or go against logic.

That would mean admitting a story isn’t two-sided, and that not everything is a horse race. It is also why the media is so terrible at its job: ostensibly to tell the truth.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I posted this on Randy’s blog. It’s being held for moderation. We’ll see whether it gets through.

“We call upon other organizations concerned with preserving the essential equality of all individuals to exhibit impartiality in their policies, rather than singling out some for special treatment.”

In other words, you reject anti-bullying policies which have been shown to actually work, and favour ones which are known to be ineffective. Vague general “be nice to each other” DOESN’T WORK. Kids (and adults) need specifics. Racism needs to be dealt with specifically, as does gender essentialism (homophobia and transphobia).

TRiG.

Ray, it’s a news report about Focus attacking anti-bullying measures. I’ll try to give a more comprehensive summary after I’ve eaten something.

TRiG.

Thomas Kraemer
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

In my post Gay suicide meme is empathetic, poignant, charitable, political, homophobic and counterproductive (10/2/10) I noted that when the modern gay liberation movement took off in the 1970s, gay activists frequently repeated the meme that gay teenagers have a higher suicide rate because they are victimized by homophobic bullying. This gay suicide meme is still being repeated today as evidenced by Dan Savage’s “It gets better” project.

Unfortunately, the gay suicide meme may be counterproductive according to a book by Cornell University professor Ritch C. Savin-Williams, “The new gay teenager,” Harvard University Press, 2005. The author has spent decades studying gay adolescents and his book argues that older gay activists are being counterproductive when they promote the gay teen suicide issue for political gain.

Savin-Williams fears the “suicidal script” for gay teens causes some to give up prematurely, especially when they hear their life is inevitably distraught from both gay activists and anti-gay religious leaders. Savin-Williams’ book proposes a better way that holistically addresses all of the reasons a teenager may be subjected to bullying. The author is careful to point out that nothing in his book justifies the “neglect of gay young people who suffer and entertain thoughts of suicide.” (See my previous post Just Out Don’t Exploit Suicide (8/19/06))

Jim Burroway
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I’ve read Savin-Williams research. While he has some important contributions to the study of suicide among young people, he is very much outside the consensus in his rather odd opinion that somehow it is the “older gay activists” fault that gay teens are committing suicide.

His out-of-the-mainstream contention is s especially suspect given the fact that 1) the “older gay activists” are routinely denied the opportunity to talk to gay teens and 2) he has no evidence to suggest that gay teens are considering what you would think of being the rhetoric of “older gay activists” as a factor in deciding to commit suicide.

So it would seem that your solution to the suicide problem is to not talk about it? Or, worse, to deny that it even exists?

And by the way, to suggest that expressing alarm and outrage over the conditions that have led to they young boys death has something to do with “political gain” is patently offensive. It is as outrageous as anything I’ve heard from the anti-gay right on the subject. You really should be ashamed of yourself.

grantdale
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Thomas,

I think you’d be wise to separate what Savin-Williams is saying about today’s ‘average’ gay teen from the wider discussion about bullying of gay teens, and the impact on particular gay teens.

It’s difficult not to be drawn to the recent spate of completed suicides (as it is such a dramatic and final outcome.) But bullying, done in the name of all the reasons we could list, is more than simply this.

Yes, Savin-Williams does point to the “resiliency of most youth”. He does not want discussion of the lives of gay teens to be seen only in terms of suicide, depression etc for the simple reason that most gay teens do indeed seem to cope as well as any other of their peers. He wants gay teens, their peers, and their families to know that their lives will be a generally positive one; as it will be for most other people.

And he’s correct, on that. When talking with gay teens I don’t assume that they are entertaining thoughts of suicide, or that life is an awful trial. To the contrary, I assume that life will largely be the same as their peers: up, down, and focused on their friends.

But this does not mean I should therefore also neglect those who are indeed bullied, depressed, or worse. Those young people do exist. Anti-gay abuse is not a myth. In some environments it is all pervasive.

I’ve seen nothing, anywhere, that suggests Savin-Williams is blind to the impact of bullying or dismissive of anti-bullying campaigns per se. He’s well aware of the bullying that can get directed at gay people of any age, and he’s well aware that people are harmed by this abuse. He’s also well aware that there is a particularly perverse environment around the bullying that can be directed at some gay teens.

Discussion of youth suicide in particular, and bullying more widely, with any young people does need a light touch, to avoid any sense of glamorising, but… it’s a discussion that also needs to be had. A wide and, critically, inclusive discussion; one in which anti-gay bullying is included as a matter of fact.

What otherwise would you suggest?

johnathan
October 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Ray,

ROUGH summary (pseudo minute-by-minute) of video:

LEAD IN: A well -known Christian group says there is a new bully targeting teens — the gay community. Program explains these controversial claims

STORY: [narration commences after shot of people on capitol steps] Upward Bound — anti-bullying program. Local students standing up against bullies.

Group is now having to defend program and their advocates because Focus on the Family feels “gay-advocacy groups” are using such programs to “push homosexuality” onto students.

Cimmaron Alliance Foundation — OK-based GLBT alliance — is organizing conference with some students who originally started with Upward Bound to ensure a safe leaning environment for each child. Conference named “Stop Hate in the Hallways.”

CLOSING:Focus on the Family with a message to parents: “Watch which outside groups are trying to get in.”

END.

justsearching
October 4th, 2010 | LINK

Randy phrased his deep-felt sadness over this case while meticulously ensuring he never once recognized the reality of a homosexual orientation. He mentions:

“people perceived or identifying as gay”
“[people who are gay out of] self-determination”
“people who believe [that they are gay]”

In other words, he’s calling everyone to be nice and treat with dignity those who have chosen to live a deviant lifestyle. This is nothing new from Exodus, of course. I’ll be honest, I’m rather cynical anytime Exodus International or its top members display their “sympathy” for gay people in public.

Amicus
October 4th, 2010 | LINK

2-cents:

Part of the problem described above is the age-old problem of doctrines and revealed truths.

The literalists on the religious right, those who don’t combine learning with revelation, say, take ‘gay suicide’ as confirming evidence. It confirms their doctrinal stance.

Everyone else, who aren’t blinded so that they can see that gay sex *for gays* is obviously NOT “sexual immorality” and that gays aren’t innate OR social criminals, take gay suicide as dis-confirming evidence. It confirms that the literalists are wrong and harmful.

What to do about it?

That’s another 2-cents: “How to talk effectively to dogmatists”.

Timothy Kincaid
October 4th, 2010 | LINK

Randy Thomas (like most of those whom I run across in the Exodus/Focus crowd), believes that anti gay bullying is a problem. They empathize with kids being picked on because of gender nonconformity (as I imaging Randy was) and they are sad that some have committed suicide. They think it is important that we speak out against suicide.

However, they believe it is FAR MORE important that homosexuality not be normalized. That is a FAR GREATER risk than the death of a few children; it would be the death of a culture and perhaps even a nation (depending on how dominionist they are).

So while they do it with sadness and regret, they will NEVER EVER support effective anti-gay bullying programs which include recognition of homosexuality as an acceptable aspect of someone’s life, especially that of a kid.

Ray
October 4th, 2010 | LINK

Thank you Jonathan!

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