A few days ago I was writing about the "other". As an example I was talking about the city of Boston back in the 19th century and how the "other" were members of the Irish community. Today in our society for some of us the "other" are members of the LGBT community, and tragically we treat them in ways that make me feel angry, sad, and confused. But a couple of days ago I read something so shocking that for a while made me speechless.
An activist with 'Tea Party Nation' (called Rich Swier) made some statements regarding a report by a group called "Gulf Coast Gives" that 77% of all bullying victims are picked on due to sexual orientation, gender identity, or the perception of either. LGBT youth are up to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. (That quote can be found here as part of the "Stamp Out Bullying" campaign by "Gulf Coast Gives")
In response Mr. Swier used the familiar terms of "gay agenda" and "radical gay activists" in regards to people and groups that started anti-bullying efforts in our society. Of course, I wonder if Mr. Swier is aware that many in law enforcement, the police and similar groups fully support anti-bullying efforts. For example: in 2010 the Dallas Police Department started to enforce a zero tolerance policy in schools against bullying. I don't think Mr. Swier would accuse Dallas police officers of pushing a "gay agenda" when they try to protect Dallas school students from bullying.
However, it was not his views on the "gay agenda" that made me write about this issue. According to Mr. Swier when a student is being bullied because he is gay, she is a lesbian, etc, is not bullying:
This is not bullying. It is peer pressure and is healthy. There are many bad behaviors such as smoking, under age drinking and drug abuse that are behaviors that cannot be condoned. Homosexuality falls into this category.
Homosexuality is simply bad behavior that youth see as such and rightly pressure their peers to stop it. In Sarasota County over 70% of all HIV/AIDS cases are due to male sex with males.
I agree with Gulf Coast Gives that “LGBT youth are up to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts”. Homosexuality, like drugs, harms young people if they experiment [sic] with it. That is the greatest tragedy.
I simply could not believe what I was reading. The "greatest tragedy" was him saying those words.
First, let us put aside for the moment Mr. Swier's views on "homosexuality". My first question is:
Does Mr. Swier understand what "bullying" is? Let us see what the FBI say about 'bullying' as part of "Bullying in Schools":
Bullying has two key components: repeated harmful acts and an imbalance of power. It involves repeated physical, verbal, or psychological attacks or intimidation directed against victims who cannot properly defend themselves because of size or strength or because they are outnumbered or less psychologically resilient.
Of course any talk of bullying in the 21st century must also mention "cyberbullying". This following definition of "cyberbullying" is from the "Computer Emergency Readiness Team" at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:
Cyberbullying refers to practice of using technology to harass, or bully, someone else. Bullies used to be restricted to methods such as physical intimidation, postal mail, or the telephone. Now, developments in electronic media offer forums such as email, instant messaging, web pages, and digital photos to add to the arsenal. Computers, cell phones, and PDAs are current tools that are being used to conduct an old practice.
Forms of cyberbullying can range in severity from cruel or embarrassing rumors to threats, harassment, or stalking. It can affect any age group; however, teenagers and young adults are common victims, and cyberbullying is a growing problem in schools.
Now, that we have some understanding of what bullying is (in theory of course since perhaps you or someone you know has experienced some form of bullying) we go back to what Mr. Swier said and I ask another question: what is his reasoning? If a straight student experiences repeated physical, verbal, or psychological attacks or intimidation it is bullying. But if a LGBT student experiences repeated physical, verbal, or psychological attacks or intimidation it is not bullying but it is instead peer pressure and is healthy since according to Mr. Swier "homosexuality" is a "bad behavior" similar to smoking?
I will not continue to try to understand the logic of such words, including how he compares 'smoking' to 'homosexuality' and so a student being bullied for being gay should simply stop this "bad behavior" and change his "lifestyle" just like a smoker should just quit. What would he say to a straight student that was bullied because someone spread a rumor around the school we may never know. At the least I am glad that Mr. Swier is not a police officer, a prosecutor, or a judge. It does terrify me that there is the small possibility that he could be part of a jury on a bullying case. But that is not the only thing that terrifies me.
To show such a total lack of compassion for other human beings is unbelievable. Anyone that has ever been a victim of bullying would cringe to hear his words, and any parents of a bullying victim that have lost a child to suicide because of bullying would have many things to say about this.
Why do some of us choose to treat a group of people in such horrible ways and justify it? Because to some of us they are the "other", and sometimes the "other" can become something more: a scapegoat. To Mr. Swier it appears that the LGTB community is one of these scapegoats. To him ...In Sarasota County 70% of all HIV/AIDS cases are due to male sex with males. To use statistics in that fashion reminds me of the feelings that fueled the paranoia of the 80's when some people thought shaking the hand of a "homosexual" could give you AIDS.
To turn a whole group of people into a scapegoat is not only tragic, but dangerous. But why, why do we do this to people?
Thomas Merton once said that sometimes we oversimplify; we look at a particular group of people (sometimes it can be a "particular nation, class, race, ideology system for example) and we create a scapegoat. Then we do the following:
We discharge upon this scapegoat all the virulent force of our hatred, compounded with fear and anguish, striving to rid ourselves of our dread and of our guilt by destroying the object we have arbitrarily singled out as the embodiment of all evi
I don't believe that Mr. Swier thinks that the LGBT community is responsible for "all evil". But a political activist knows the power of words and he can use those words to influence others. I hope someone from the Florida press is doing a follow-up on this. I also wonder if 'Tea Party Nation' is aware of what he said and if they are then what would they say or do about it?
Finally, I have one last question: what can we learn from all this?
Let us not commit the mistakes of the past. The communities that we perceive as the "other" should not be turned into the latest scapegoat and the reason for what is wrong in our lives.
Let us stand together against bullying in any form that it takes and the suffering it causes. Let us be there for anyone that has been a victim of bullying before they come to the tragic conclusion that is better to leave this world forever.
They will need our love, our support, our help with the healing process and this can take a long time. Even when the physical wounds are healed, the emotional wounds can be horrible.
Also, let us remember that many that engage in bullying are victims themselves of domestic violence, emotional problems and even of bullying by others. We also need to help them before it is too late.
Educate yourselves, talk to your friends, to your children.
If you are a victim of bullying tell someone.
If you suspect bullying report it.
Let us also tell those that justify acts of bullying to stop.
There is nothing "healthy" about acts of physical or emotional violence.
There is nothing "healthy" about repeated acts of intimidation.
There is nothing "healthy" about harassment.
There is nothing "healthy" about bullying. Nothing.