Monday, November 08, 2010

Bullying leads to another kid's death.

Brandon Bitner was just 14-years-old when he intentionally ran in front of a semi truck. He left a suicide note at his home and disappeared in the middle of the night. His family discovered his absence at 3:45 am and were notified of his death at 4:30 am.

Bitner left his home in the middle of the night and walked 13 miles before taking action.

Friends of Bitner say he was bullied at school for being gay. The school, says they know of no such incidents, but Bitner's friends report a regular problem.

What compounds the problem is that the only church Bitner was reported to attend was a fundamentalist church with anti-gay policies. The youth pastor at the church says that kids in the church are encouraged to "reach out to the hurting" but doesn't say what happens after that. The problem is that fundamentalists insist that being gay is evil and sinful and that such "hurting" kids must change, something that doesn't seem possible. Fundamentalists churches reaching out to gay kids is NOT a good thing. It is just theological bullying with a saccharine lilt to the voice, when it isn't screeching hell fire and brimstone.

To illustrate this point the New York Times just ran an article on November 6th reporting how anti-bullying efforts in government schools face fierce opposition from—who else?—fundamentalist churches. When Montana introduce lessons on tolerance and sexuality the fundamentalists went to war, along with help from the Big Sky Tea Party. Rick DeMato, a fundamentalist minister from the misnamed Liberty Baptist Church said: "We do not want the minds of our children to be polluted with the things of a carnal-minded society."

DeMato says they are against bullying but doesn't define how he interprets bullying. But he says all anti-bullying campaigns involving gay students has to be excluded because "the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong and Christians don't want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values." Presumably, since DeMato believes state schools are supposed to teach according to a fundamentalist curriculum he would be happy if gay kids were told they were "repulsive," but that bullying is wrong. Of course, most bullying at the schools that is directed at gay kids is more in line with constant verbal taunts quite similar to how DeMato talks.

The right-wing fundamentalist group Focus on the Family has also come out in opposition to anti-bullying efforts in the schools claiming they are "promoting homosexual lessons."

The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—those were the people who started their own denomination precisely because they believed God wanted them to own other human beings as slave—says that "gay activists accuse conservative Christians of homophobia" but "they are wrong." He says their anti-gay views "is not rooted in fear, but in faithfulness to the Bible—and faithfulness means telling the truth." I have always opposed using the word homophobia precisely for that reason. Bigotry is not fear, it is is hate. I do not call such people homophobic because they don't have a fear the way many people have a fear of heights. They hold views that require them to hate a person, and hate is not the same thing as fear.

If anything I believe the term "homophobia" lets them off too easily.

Focus on the Family insists that the school should just say it is against bullying and NEVER mention the fact that gay students are disproportionately targeted for such hatred. They want the schools to only discuss "the wrong actions of the bully—not on the bully's perceived thoughts or motivations." Please note that what this means is that the school would not be allowed to take preventative measures regarding bullying by promoting tolerance of all students. To do that would be to discuss motivations. Focusing on actions requires actions to have already taken place. In other words, Focus on the Family prefers schools only do something about bullying AFTER it was already done.

Consider this policy and our latest victim of the bullies: Brandon Bitner. Now that Bitner is dead the school is aware that he was bullied and the school could take action against the bullies but must not discuss the motivation for the bullying. However, prior to the actual death of Brandon the school would not be able to discuss motivations that cause kids to bully one another. They would be unable to take action to prevent bullying, only respond to it after the fact.

Let me be blunt, as if I ever fail at that: the reason that fundamentalists don't want the motives of bullies discussed is because it requires one to talk about the rabid anti-gay prejudices that permeate the fundamentalist sub-culture.

Many fundamentalists have actually resorted to arguing that the disproportionate number of gay teens killing themselves is the result of too much tolerance of gay people. Tony Perkins of the antigay Family Research Council says "there's no empirical evidence for the claim that society's disapproval of homosexuality causes the mental health problems (including depression and suicide) that are found among homosexuals."

Most Americans disagree. A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute was released at the end of October. That poll reported that 72% of the public think that religious messages regarding homosexuality encourage "negative views" regarding gay people and 65% said there is a connection between those views and the suicides of gay kids.

The one group most satisfied with their churches attitudes toward gay people are fundamentalist

Only 7% of Americans believe that their are positive messages coming from the churches regarding gay people, 43% say the message is negative and the rest don't know or say it is not discussed. Asked to assign grades to how well the churches deal with the issue only 16% give the churches an A or B grade, while 42% give them a D or F. Thirty percent give them a C grade.

Asked if they believe anti-gay messages in the church contribute to gay teen suicide rates one third say the message contributes "a lot," while another third say it makes some contribution. Only 21% say it has no impact.

The facts are that anti-gay messages do send messages to gay kids and to the bullies. That is what they are meant to do. Fundamentalists repeatedly say they wish all gay people would go back into the closet so that no one had to see them or deal with them. Some, such a major leaders of the old Moral Majority, openly called for incarcerating gay people and publicly supported the death penalty for being gay. The reason fundamentalists don't want motivations for bullying discussed is because they are a major source for providing those motivations.

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