Thursday, September 30, 2010

the "it gets better project".. maybe that'll help make things better?

doesn't it feel like you can't read the news lately without hearing about a teenager or young adult somewhere who has committed suicide because they were bullied about their sexuality.

i don't like the term "gay teens" being bandied about in headlines. don't get me wrong, it's important to identify sexuality as a cause of bullying, but i think that framing it just as "gay teen commits suicide!" puts the bullies in the periphery. bullies are bullies, and they've been around forever--causing suicides and killing other people. it also makes it seem like bullying gays is a new phenomenon and it really isn't. on one hand, it's great that the news is willing to cover "gay" issues now, but ten years ago when a "gay teen" killed themselves it wasn't in the national headlines.

also, at the risk of this being an unpopular theory, i think it's important that media (and people consuming media) be careful about catch all headlines. like "gay teen kills self after bullying", or "guy jumps from bridge for just ONE reason." yes, bullying often leads to suicide, but by making it just about bullying we ignore the other reasons that a person might want to kill themselves.

also, is bullying really the right term for what's happening? after reading this story about the rutgers student, tyler clementi, it seems to be essential that these crimes don't just get thrown together under the umbrella of bullying.

tyler clementi killed himself after his roommate and another student secretly taped and streamed him having sex in his own room. honestly, videotaping someone having sex in their OWN bed and broadcasting it on the internet?? well, first of all it's a crime and the two people who did it should be prosecuted for it. second of all, even if you aren't gay and someone does that to you it could be enough to make you kill yourself. to have your privacy invaded, to have your body on display, to have something never intended for anyone else seen by any number of people on the internet?

it's a nightmare, some people's WORST nightmare, to have their private lives taped secretly. and it almost seems like the tone of the article suggests that because tyler was gay, the taping counts as "just bullying" instead of an actual criminal act because it was prompted by his sexuality.

this takes me back to my point about not just focusing on "bullying" as the cause of such deaths. we have to look at systemic causes of bullying someone over their sexuality(or for any reason). we have to look at heterosexist and homophobic school curricula. we have to look at government and social policies and at laws that discriminate against certain kinds of people and make them more vulnerable to being victims of specific crimes.

anyways, the extra focus on bullying around sexuality is important and necessary as long as we don't assume it's a new phenomenon or that every case is exactly the same. this isn't new and that approach to ending these kinds of hate crimes has to be broad and not simply focus on one aspect of a person's life that might make them want to end it.

even while the internet is providing more avenues for bullying, with a larger audience, the internet has also been a way to connect the dots about bullying/hate crimes.

case in point: the it gets better project.

dan savage, of the savage love column started the it gets better project on you tube after hearing about a teen suicide, he says: "I posted something to my blog about Billy Lucas — who might not have even been gay, he wasn't out if he was gay, and not all kids who experience anti-gay bullying are gay — but he was bullied for being gay. ... And I was reading about him and about Justin Aaberg [another teenager who committed suicide after being bullied at school] in Minnesota, and the reaction as an openly gay adult, always, when you read these stories is, 'I wish I could've talked to this kid for five minutes, so I could've told him it gets better"

so that's what he's done. it's a really interesting project, especially at a time when rights around sexual orientation/preference are being turned around as fast as they can progress. gay marriage, prop 8, don't ask/don't tell-- these are all great reasons to feel desolate about the future.

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