Bullying and Religion: the Second Wave Stories

Now that the bullying stories are in their second wave, there is now increasing attention to the question of what caused the bullying and the role homophobia and anti-gay rhetoric plays in that bullying.  Inevitably, that discussion circles around to the role religion (specifically conservative Christianity) plays in that bullying and the suicides that sometimes result.

Dan Savage, who created the It Gets Better Campaign, confronted this head-on in his column.

The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from lips of “faithful Christians,” and the lies that spew forth from the pulpit of the churches “faithful Christians” drag their kids to on Sundays, give your straight children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your straight children—having listened to mom and dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to the family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry himself to sleep—feel justified in physically attacking the gay and lesbian children they encounter in their schools. You don’t have to explicitly “encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate” gay kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It’s here, it’s clear, and we can see the fruits of it.

There has also been a reaction from conservatives. Our faithful readers at the Media Research Center/Newsbusters have accused NLGJA of wanting to slant news coverage by suggesting “crazy ministers” or groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council don’t need to be the first call when a gay teenager kills himself after being bullied.

At the religious conservative media watchdog site GetReligion, Terry Mattingly has suggested that the media has done a bad job of connecting the dots between bullying deaths and traditional religious believers because there isn’t evidence of “Bible-toting bullies with webcams” and asks “[w]ere these cyber-punks bar hoppers or members of a dorm Bible study?”

Let’s be clear.  Good journalism requires fair and objective coverage of issues.  If we are talking about the role religion may play in bullying, then of course we need to talk to people on all sides of the issue to flesh it out.

But the bullying story and how it connects to suicides for gay teens isn’t just about the perpetrators, but also about the larger culture of intolerance.  It’s not about the religious beliefs of the bullies, but about the environment that creates that bullying.  It’s also about the environment that leads a gay teen to be so distraught by the bullying that they want to kill themselves.  Does the rhetoric of the religious right play a role in that environment and the messages that kid hears?

There are arguments to be made on both sides and good journalists ask questions of all sides.  But good journalists also need to understand the issue and that it’s not just about the act of bullying.  That means asking pundits like Dan Savage to back up their points and move beyond generalities.  And it means asking activist groups like FotF and the Family Research Council to explain why they oppose anti-bullying legislation and inclusion of training on bullying targeting LGBT kids.

There’s an important conversation to be had here about whether religious speech can be harmful to LGBT kids.  Good journalists can examine that issue fairly and accurately, but also they must be willing to be a part of that conversation and move beyond the usual voices.

2 Responses

  1. The people at GetReligion are simply bigots. Mattingly thinks that being bullied as a preacher’s kid is the worse than being bullied as a gay teenager. Taking journalistic cues from them is a recipe for disaster. They regularly smear the memory of Matthew Shepard and refuse to take any responsibility for the results of religious rhetoric and action.

  2. The editorial appearing in today’s Rutgers University Daily Targum (“Media exploits university tragedy”) is thinly concealed homophobia, from start to finish.

    Immersed in heterosexual privilege, an editor or editorial staff such as this has no worthwhile guidance to offer LGBT people on the subject of gay and lesbian issues; indeed, calling this editorial presumptuous falls far, far short of the intensity of the offense given by it to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Rutgers students, faculty, and administration as well as the larger community.

    The writers of this piece might be ignored, but better yet, they need to be called to account for their decerebrate impertinence in writing:

    “… The mistake was that Clementi’s death should not have been turned into a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protest for gay rights and safe spaces at the University … Essentially, an angry mob fending for their rights turned the death of a young boy into a cause for “safe spaces” for gays across the University – all the while, these spaces already existed…”

    Self-evidently, this is untrue.

    How redolent of the fetid ichor of “Focus on the Family.” How ineffably stupid.

    A central factor in the suicide of Tyler Clementi and the unusually large number of other gay and lesbian teens and pre-teens victimized by bullying this past week was the fact of the victims’ shared sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation.

    Their deaths have galvanized the LGBT community into a massive educational effort, as did the crucifixion and murder of openly gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Hopefully, it will save some lives.

    Nonetheless, to fail to acknowledge the specifically anti-gay dimensions of the problem (as the writers of this editorial suggest we do), to deny the sexual orientation of an overwhelming preponderance of the victims of bullying generally, and to fail to affix responsibility to those social, cultural and religious forces that perpetuate homophobia is to condone bullying.

    The time has come to “name names.”

    I profoundly hope that individuals and groups continue to utilize Tyler’s tragic death as an event around which to coalesce solidarity and activism. Were that not to happen, were the realities of queer oppression and the work of queer liberation to be denied in favor of the sophomoric, sappy and nebulous plea for us “all to get along” – that would gravely compound the tragedy of Tyler’s death.

    The parties responsible for writing and publishing this insulting and unfair detritus should resign or have their relationship with the Targum terminated, and in the event that fails to happen, advertisers should be persuaded to withdraw their support from this pathetic, self-involved excuse for a collegiate newspaper.

    Further details of the editorial and the community’s reaction to it are available at http://www.queerty.com/rutgers-daily-targum-continuing-to-de-gay-tyler-clementis-death-20101008/#ixzz123n20kBp

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