The Gay Selma: Schools ignore gay bullying at their own peril

The Gay Selma: Schools ignore gay bullying at their own peril
Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

Bottle-blond bangs swept over one eye — this, the other boys whispered, was not a man's haircut. One of them — a popular, handsome specimen — grew particularly incensed at his classmate's new look. He formed a posse and found a pair of scissors. After locating the blond boy, the gang tackled him. The boy screamed for help, but none came. Lock by lock, his hair was lopped off.

Soon after, the boy disappeared from school. Eventually, he returned, his hair clipped short and back to its natural brown color.

There was no disciplinary action, but the incident would forever haunt everyone involved, save for the lead attacker, Mitt Romney. He forgot about it, married a pretty girl, produced five handsome sons and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Now he wants to be president.

The suicide of Tammy Aaberg’s (right) son Justin inspired U.S. Senator Al Franken (center) to pen the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Courtesy Tammy Aaberg
The suicide of Tammy Aaberg’s (right) son Justin inspired U.S. Senator Al Franken (center) to pen the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Gay kids have long been a target of bullying. Until recently incidents could be laughed off as "pranks," and no one suffered any consequences — except for the gay kid. But in the last few years, that has begun to change.

Some say it started the night Tyler Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge. He'd just discovered that his roommate at Rutgers University had used a webcam to spy on a kiss he shared with another man. Police found Clementi's body seven days later.

Clementi wasn't the only gay kid to commit suicide that September — there were ten in all. Asher Brown, a thirteen-year-old boy from Cypress, Texas, shot himself in the head with his stepfather's Beretta. Seth Walsh, thirteen, hung himself in his rural California back yard just a half-hour after his mother had rescued him from a gang of bullies.

"It is a totally unnecessary tragedy for my children," says Wendy Walsh, Seth's mother. "I don't know where all the hate comes from."

Now bullies everywhere are being held to account. Dharun Ravi, the roommate who spied on Clementi, was charged and found guilty of a hate crime — last week he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The Department of Justice brought harsh sanctions down on Walsh's school district, and the local legislature passed "Seth's Law," making it mandatory for schools to formally investigate bullying claims. The news of fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas, who hanged himself in September 2010 after being bullied by classmates in his native Indiana, inspired the creation of the "It Gets Better" campaign, a viral video series designed to show gay kids there's a better life after graduation.

"That September woke a lot of older, grown-up LGBT members to the fact that, while it had gotten so much better for us out in the world, there had been the inverse effect of upping the temperature for kids in school," says Dan Savage, the alternative-newsweekly sex columnist who started "It Gets Better." "I really do think it shifted the culture."

The world swooned earlier this month when President Obama gave gay marriage his personal blessing, but his administration's efforts to combat bullying may actually be the more valuable contribution. Under his direction, the U.S. Department of Justice has vigorously pursued schools all over the country for failing to protect gay kids. Obama also endorsed the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Al Franken to make homosexuality a federally protected class.

"It gives them sort of the same civil rights as racial minorities got from the '64 Civil Rights Act, that women got from Title IX," says Franken. "I think more people are beginning to see this for what it is.... This is a group of people that just overwhelmingly are the victims of bullying and harassment."

When it comes to gay bullying, society seems to be experiencing something of a paradigm shift.

"I compare it to what happened in the South in the civil-rights movement," says Jamie Nabozny, the plaintiff in the country's first gay bullying case. "The fall of 2010 will be comparable to what happened in Selma."


Not all that long ago, the only classroom conversation about homosexuality and kids was how to keep them separate. In the '70s teachers were routinely fired for coming out of the closet. There was no such thing as a Gay-Straight Alliance club in school.

The arrival of AIDS in the '80s forced sex-education programs to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality. That in turn triggered a righteous panic. In 1987 Republican Sen. Jesse Helms took to the Senate floor brandishing a "Gay Men's Health Crisis" comic as part of his successful bid to ban federal funding for AIDS education materials that "promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities."

Eight states still have language on the law books derived from Helms' "no homo promo" policy. In Texas sex-ed classes are required to teach that homosexuality is "not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense." In Arizona the law forbids schools from portraying homosexuality "as a positive alternative lifestyle."

"There was this fear that if you were talking about gay people, you were having inappropriate conversations with students about sex," says Kim Westheimer, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Welcoming Schools project.

The gay-rights movement began to push back in the '90s. An openly gay teacher in Boston named Kevin Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to help educators who wanted to offer counsel to gay kids. In 1999 a judge affirmed that Gay-Straight Alliance clubs had a right to gather on school grounds.

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39 comments
Info
Info

This article is more evidence that bullying is a national tragedy affecting young people across America and throughout Missouri. We all need to take action against the source of bullying and let kids, parents, teachers, principals and politicians know that bullying is NOT okay. We all need to do something to make a difference. An amazing young singer-songwriter named Becca Levy is doing just that. She has started a music based anti bullying group called Right Now. Here’s a link to her video for a cover of “Right Now” by Van Halen. The purpose of the video is to promote awareness to kids using both music and the Internet. The video begins with a public service announcement and is full of statistics that people of all ages need to see. Becca lives in Washington, D.C. and just turned sixteen years old. Rightnowagainstbullying.com

Earlhickey63043
Earlhickey63043

Start your own "special" school. Sick , perverted disgusting terds !

ihtnep
ihtnep

If we are judging candidates based on their school days, could we see the transcripts of an admitted drug using slacker?

Zaney
Zaney

Get over it, You people seem to be doing the same thing you ars accusing Romney of. Bullying online of Romney? You all are hipocrits!

Tombets
Tombets

The gays are the ones bullying everyone to throw out their convictions and accept their lifestyle choices.

Ophu
Ophu

What kind of people do the bullies grow up to be? Do theygrow up to be kind, gentle souls with plenty of moral fiber? Or do they remain cowardly bullies, always on the lookout for the next-biggest kid on the playground?

Georgia Boy2
Georgia Boy2

I was bullied from the time I was four - and through high school. My ultimate action was to have to fight back. I was bullied every day in the first grade until my bully decided he was going to beat me up after school. he pinned me in on the play ground - Only thing was he didn't realize I was also insane. He attacked me and I beat the hell out of him and left him in the dirt. I was Okay, until 6th grade when one of my teachers started in. It continued through Middle school and again in high school - until I Physically fought back. Neither time - I don't think I fought like a man--boy - But, I got the job done. One of my teachers told me that it would be different in College - but it wasn't really. That was a very very long time ago - and I still deal with bigotry - We need to step forward to protect our Children from this terror.

Scott Hummel
Scott Hummel

I was harrassed as a teen, before I had experienced my first sexual encounter. In fact I wasn't even technically gay at the time. All this hate bs everyone is spreading is nauseating. As for it getting better, I find myself in daily battles via the current social media for gay rights, does it really get better? I have been fighting back my entire life, and I am sick and tired of it! I have been denied jobs. I have been physically attacked. I have been spit on. I have been cursed at. I have been chased. I keep fighting. So while some of you might find it political fluff to debate over your morning coffee. This is a real issue effecting real people on a daily basis. If homosexuality is such a sin, wtf about a gay virgin, hasnt had sex, hasnt committed this outrageous sin of which you accuse and throw your abuse. Think about it, and see who the real sinner is. Gay bullying is one of those things people roll their eyes at and pretend shock; but know full well that it goes on, (such as military going to prostitutes, Tiger Woods cheating on his wife, and racial profiling at traffic stops). I am ashamed to live in this state, which has thrown me to the floor. I am ashamed that this bill aimed to protect kids from bullying did not pass in this state. I am ashamed to call the voters and elected officials in MO my neighbors.

Witoups
Witoups

This is a great article on gay bullying in schools… Several statements in this article really struck me. "We should no longer accept the idea that bullying is a rite of passage for young people," says Carolyn Laub, the founder and executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. "What we know from years of practice on the ground is that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment and name-calling are learned behaviors, and they can be interrupted and stopped." Seth Walsh, thirteen, hung himself in his rural California back yard just a half-hour after his mother had rescued him from a gang of bullies. "It is a totally unnecessary tragedy for my children," says Wendy Walsh, Seth's mother. "I don't know where all the hate comes from." Well, we DO know where all the hate comes from. It's learned behavior and it comes from the churches and parents. The hate comes from churches like Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina where Pastor Charles L. Worley figured a way out to get rid of all the lesbians and queers. “Build a great big large fence 50 or 100 miles long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. Have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. You know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce.” The hate comes from churches like Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Greensburg, Indiana where church members can be seen applauding and cheering a toddler as he sings the anti-gay verse — “I know the Bible’s right, somebody’s wrong, ain’t no homo going to make it to heaven” — with one person shouting, “That’s my boy!” Where church Pastor Jeff Sangl can been seen in smiling and nodding in approval behind the unidentified youth. Disgusting…

joe
joe

My brother and I went to an all white catholic school, where we were the only minorities in the whole school for the first 6 years of grade school. Fortunately, i was almost 6 ft and 230 lbs but, my brother was skinny and lanky. I got bullied quite a bit from older kids and fought quite a bit. By eighth grade i "ran" the school and "took care" of bullies. When i was getting bullied, i never ever thought about ending my life. I was more worried about telling my mom how my pants got ripped. I know bullying happens, sometimes i think it is being blown way out of proportion. just my two cents.

Noone
Noone

Yes gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transexuals have gained more of a voice in recent months but what happens if the ultra-right republicans gain office - will these rights as well as the rights of women to have a say in their own lives be lost. Too many women are still being stiffled by "men know what's best" and women are property attidues, and the republicans have already given notice that most of women's rights will be gone if they gain office. I wish I could understand the reason behind the hatred and fear of those who wish smother the voice of anyone who is different, believing it is their right and duty to do so. May the Powers grant continued strength to those who fight for the right of those who are 'different.'

Arthur Wiederhold
Arthur Wiederhold

What makes these people think the rest of us give a shit what they do or what happens to them? I mean really? haven't we seen and heard more than enough of this overly vocal, annoying minority? Just go away!

KITTY
KITTY

Once again media bias rears its ugly head. Frau Lussenhop gushed and blathered on and on about Obama, never saying an unkind word about him. At the same time she trashed Romney for a bullying incident that happened 50+ years ago.

Lussenhop covered up the fact Obama bullied "a little white girl" when he was young. This he admitted to in his book Dreams of My Father.

Romney and others picked on a fellow student their own age. Obama committed a worse offense by bullying a child much younger.

Frau Lussenhop: Take off your Obama campaign button, turn off MSNBC and report all of the facts without cover up or obvious bias.

Better yet, read the Canons of Journalism - probably for the first time - which say in part: Journalists should be fair, honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Delibarate distortion is never permissable. Never distort the content of news, photos or videos.

David Smethie
David Smethie

Gay children getting bullied has many societal implications but in terms of legal liability some schools and the school districts are being taken to court when they fail to crackdown on the bullying. The schools can be found liable for damages which means a lot of money for students who feel not enough is being done.

Georgia & NYC.
Georgia & NYC.

have no idea what you mean by "you people." And are you saying that the big bad bully - gets himself all wet when he gets pushback? And, if you consider - criticisms of the Mitty - is Bullying. Then you are a bigger fool than he is. I really don't think you want to get into this wrestling match.

Margot707
Margot707

Google "Selma civil rights movement"

Zetsubel
Zetsubel

No, the LGBT community is bullying everyone into ACCEPTING them, you idiot. And obviously just ''being you'' doesn't work. It hasn't the past fifty or so years. I think that's plenty of time to decide on a different course of action.

Scott Hummel
Scott Hummel

last i checked we didnt ask for your approval. and last i checked your disappoval was stated in your post. even if you look at gay marriage, this issue was not on the "agenda" as the next move after the sodomy laws were reversed. It was the right wing, that said well what now that the laws are reversed what now gay marriage? and at that point the laws to ban same sex marriage were put on the ballots. The "gay agenda" simply attempted to defend themselves, and thus it is a huge issue. If you don't agree with it thats fine, good riddance to you sir, but please stop patronizing

Scott Hummel
Scott Hummel

last i checked we didnt ask for your approval. and last i checked your disappoval was stated in your post.

Matty
Matty

They grow up to be GOPs. ;D

ShortSweet
ShortSweet

And why do the "different" people keep trying to ram their lifestyle down our throats. I, for one, could care less what they do, but I don't appreciate their antics in public and will not tolerate it around my family.

Zetsubel
Zetsubel

"What makes these people think the rest of us give a shit what they do or what happens to them?"

Probably the comments like this.

ShortSweet
ShortSweet

AMEN. I could care less what they do in private, but I'm sick of their whining and performing in public.

Hwymanric10
Hwymanric10

sounds like you missed what the article was about. it wasn't really about obama and since you seem to dislike him so much, that's all you caught. It's about the horror that school kids go through. I was bullied when i was young and it's stayed with me through over 5 decades. If you'd gone through that, you'd have a little compassion for school kids and those who are actually trying to defend them.

Mark Powell
Mark Powell

Fair and honest. Something your buddies over at Faux Snooze know absolutely NOTHING about. As for courageous, I have never seen a conservative reporter show anything but venal cowardice and lies. Go back and read the extracts about when Obama bullied a girl, ALONE, not part of a pack, like Mittens did. Obama has apologized to the girl SEVERAL times, R-Money feels so justified in his group attack that he led, that he cannot even remember doing it. Also, the incident Obama was involved in was not about LGBTQ issues, as R-Money's were, putting what Obama did outside the scope of this article.Try again with your conservative lies and distortions.

helenwheels74
helenwheels74

okay, but this is specifically about bullying gay or perceived-as-gay kids, not being mean to little girls, which is also wrong, but a story for another day.

duckfaceantonacio
duckfaceantonacio

Kitty dear, you sound like a little bit like a confused moron. Are you?

shaundominic
shaundominic

The start of the article about Romney was not the main part of the article, the real point of it was about LGBT bullying - and that initial story was an example of it. The fact that Obama bullied a child is not actually relevant in this article seeing as though it wasn't an LGBT event. Another point about these 2 different issues is one that you raised yourself - Obama admitted to the bullying himself, which if you remember Romney did not. In fact Romney went a whole step further and said that he didn't even remember the event. The event was corroborated by a number of individuals and seemed pretty harsh - not something that a righteous man would forget. I have never done anything like that before, but I did something that I wasn't proud of at the time and I have never forgot it.

Bm
Bm

Kitty, Romney still hasn't apologized. He did say he is sorry if anyone thought he was wrong. He was wrong. Period. He was and still is a bully-never admitting what he did was wrong. Imagine if someone did it to One of Romney's sons. Lawsuits and financial ruin. Even Ann can't admit it was wrong. They are a sad pair. Don't blame others for noticing his lack of empathy or ever awareness of right or

David F
David F

Wow, Kitty, you mean that a free alternative newspaper with a shrine to Dan Savage in every issue and pages of tranny-prostitution ads has..gasp...left-leaning tendencies? THIS IS THE SCOOP OF THE CENTURY! I mean, I just got the July issue of "No Shit!!!" magazine, and even they didn't beat you to the punch. You are truly inspiring. I will vote for the insanely rich, selfish plutocrat Mitt Romney now, and I want you to know it's because of your incredible insight. I want to fill you with my babbys. No, babies aren't worth your gutty-wuts...I SAID BABBYS.

ShortSweet
ShortSweet

Good post, Kitty. If the wussies can't understand, it's their problem. Many others agree with you.

Your Momma
Your Momma

What are you going to do about you fucking inbred loudmouth pussy? Maybe you should spend less time being a bigoted asshole and FAR less time fucking your children you fucking 1950 bumpkin piece of shit. Just die already, the world has moved on beyond your leave it to beaver dogshit. Pussy motherfucker.

David F
David F

"And why do the "different" people keep trying to ram their lifestyle down our throats"~

Wow, maybe you shouldn't wear leather chaps to the rest-stop on Exit 9 in E.STL, and they would stop pounding you in the word-hole with their 'lifestyle'. You are unfortunate.

DogmaticInsularChurroMaker
DogmaticInsularChurroMaker

Amen, ShortSweet! I feel the same way about heterosexual displays. What you do in your bedroom is your business, but I'm sick and tired of you straights parading around arm in arm, making eyes at each other, displaying your nauseating lifestyle all over the TV, and inviting me to your splashy "weddings." It bothers me and I will not tolerate it around my family. Please keep your sexuality to yourself. Thank you.

 
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