By Samantha Salek
In response to several gay teen suicides at the start of the school year, journalist Dan Savage stepped up to attempt to make a difference in the lives of LGBT teenagers who may be suffering at the hands of bullies in school.
He did this with his new project, called “It Gets Better”(IGB). IGB uses the personal accounts of supportive celebrities as well as everyday people to show gay teens that life can get better for them as adults. The project has received a widely positive response.
The mainstream media picked up the story, hailing it as a crisis of bullying in schools among America’s teenagers.
However, after another gay teenage university student took his own life with no apparent signs that bullying was a potential cause, Melissa Pope, the director of his university’s Gender and Sexuality Center, responded with a statement that searched for a deeper cause.
“We must look beyond the term ‘bullying’ to the overall treatment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community to begin to grasp the long-standing epidemic of suicide among our LGBT youth.
“While the national press has picked up this issue over the last two months, we have been losing high numbers of LGBT youth to suicide for decades. In recent years, we’ve labeled the cause as bullying. But the root cause goes deeper – it goes to the very core of our society that discriminates against the LGBT community on all levels, including the denial of basic human rights that are supposed to belong to every person.”
Pope’s argument tackles the very heart of the matter. Rebuttals to this argument, however, have poured in from several anti-gay individuals and groups.
One such argument comes from a New York Post editorial by Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) one of the largest and most prolific anti-marriage-equality groups in the country. In this piece, she rationalizes her own bigoted ideologies by effectively blaming every possible cause within the gay community for the negative impact on LGBT youth while completely denying her own organization’s probable involvement.
Maggie Gallagher’s organization openly and forcefully spreads a message of intolerance to the world. By launching campaigns to reinforce the idea that marriage exists solely to care for children as well as insisting that gay couples cannot be adequate parents, NOM sends out a dangerously bigoted message to impressionable American teenagers—both gay and straight.
It’s bigotry in its most evolved form. This is guilt-tripping people into feeling as though they are somehow letting down the children of America by supporting same-sex marriage, and attempting to draw the issue of marriage away from civil rights and government benefits and towards their own illusory and irrelevant “concerns.”
Now doesn’t it seem funny that NOM’s message to protect the children at all costs doesn’t seem to apply to LGBT children and teens?
Gallagher makes a point to tell adolescents in their formative years that they are somehow flawed and that the gay community is a threat to the institution of marriage, yet apparently expects this detestable message to have no negative effect on them.
Since its creation in 2007, NOM has raised and spent approximately 20 million dollars on anti-gay political campaigns and advertising. This relays the message to gay teenagers that spending huge amounts of money in order to prevent them from marrying the person that they love is completely justifiable in society.
Politically, the issue goes beyond the question of marriage equality alone. Currently, only 21 states have laws in place that protect gay and lesbian workers from workplace discrimination and only 12 of those have laws that also protect transgender people.
This means that in 29 states, people can be denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. What kind of message does that send to gay teens?
Even democratic politicians have continually made light of LGBT issues even actively working against the will of the gay community at times. It was Bill Clinton who originally passed both the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which states that the federal government defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman” and “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
These are just a few examples of the ways in which American society continues to bully the LGBT community. The sad thing is, when these elements of society and culture rear their ugly heads, teenagers listen.
Teenagers receive much of their information from the social order that they witness in their everyday lives. This is likely why it is uncommon to sit in on a class in SVHS without hearing the word “gay” used in a negative context in addition to other anti-LGBT slurs.
IGB is an incredible project that is useful in dealing with the immediate issues that bullied gay teenagers face and helping them to regain hope.
The media, however, continues to irresponsibly portray this current crisis as a problem within schools rather than a problem with American society’s overall treatment of LGBT people. They treat this as if school is an entity separate from society.
Why is it so surprising that there are negative consequences for LGBT youth when society as a whole continues to reiterate an anti-LGBT message to the people of America?
Much of gay youths’ suffering will be alleviated once the media puts forth more effort to demystify homosexuality and gender identity in American culture and get rid of the inaccurate idea that gay people are so innately different from straight people.
Until the government and American culture stop bullying LGBT people, bullying of gay teens in schools will not stop.