Co-authored by Mike Hubbard
How should we deal with bullies? Dan Savage has started the “It Gets Better” campaign, which tells gay kids in school to endure until graduation. Waiting passively for things to get better might not be the best answer, since gays are a unique minority. The picked-on Asian or Black or Catholic child usually has Asian or black or Catholic parents – and very likely has an Asian or black or Catholic community outside of school – but gay kids almost always have straight parents, and relatively few gay kids have any kind of gay community to draw on. We in the gay community should try to protect the next generation, and we need to grasp the complicated dynamics.
The greatest blessing that gay kids can have is the love and support of their parents. Yet parents frequently don’t understand the problem until their gay children come out. And gay kids are right to be cautious about doing so; parents throw too many out of their homes. It’s worth asking what parents hope to accomplish when they do this, since homelessness seems unlikely to make gay kids turn straight. Unthinking parental fury implies that the problem is less the child’s homosexuality than the parents’ feeling that the child reflects badly on them.
Parents should always love their children, but many are bent on children who complement a life they imagined. So long as parents think of their children as accessories to the good life rather than as individuals to be loved, closeted gay kids will be isolated from their best potential allies. And the children become easier potential prey for bullies.
The trouble with bullying is that it’s rooted in human nature to form small groups. People want friends who are like themselves, which is normal and healthy. They define themselves by what they’re not, such as Yankees fans being united in loathing the “Red Sox Nation.” The bully has taken something normal, being in a group and needling outsiders, and turned it into something unhealthy. Gay kids are different, but they are as worthy of respect as their straight peers. Kids with support from parents, churches or elsewhere can shrug bullies off. The isolated gay kids feel lost.
To try to help the kids, people ranging from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Gay Men’s Chorus have recorded videos telling kids that “it gets better.” When Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, and Jon Runyan – Republican congressmen from New Jersey – made an “It Gets Better” video, the left-wing Center for American Progress attacked them for votes on other issues on which CAP disapproved. Rather than praise sometime adversaries for trying to do the right thing, CAP unintentionally revealed a weakness of “It Gets Better”: the videos are less important for the kids than for the video makers.
If these videos were for the children, then having as wide a range of people as possible make them would be a good thing. There would be disagreements on plenty of other issues, but the video makers could all agree that supporting gay kids was good. Like the parents who throw gay kids out of the home, CAP is trying to throw Republicans out of the gay rights movement, which is shortsighted, foolish and wrong. It seems as though CAP sees the videos as status markers: yahoos don’t make them but virtuous people do. And partly because the videos are used more to stroke the egos of video makers, they may well be telling gay kids the wrong thing.
Many kids are already isolated and are desperate to do anything but wait. The kids feel that a better tomorrow won’t come soon enough, and take their lives because waiting is too painful. These gay kids need something more concrete than more stewing in depression. The late William F. Buckley often said that industry is the enemy of melancholy. It might be better for videos to say, “Yes, other kids are bullying. And you shouldn’t wait for it to get better. First, do what you need to be safe. That is our most important goal. You need to be safe from others. But second, you also must be safe from yourself.
In order for life to get better, you need to make yourself better. Play sports, join the band, start a glee club or chess club or theater group. Or better yet, help create a Gay-Straight Alliance in your school. There are groups like GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, that seek to develop school climates where differences are valued for their positive contribution. Don’t hide from your problems with booze or drugs. Make yourself better, and life will get better.
Robert Turner is President of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Hubbard also serves on the board of directors for the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin.
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