Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bullies and Silence

Since I left the news business, I admit that I am usually two, three days behind everyone else on “the latest”. It doesn’t bother me to be out-of-the-loop that way because, honestly, “the latest” often times really isn’t that important in the grander scheme of all things in the universe.

But I do keep up with some news via the internet. And thus I was aware that across the country, many people were taking a vow of silence on Friday to remember a California eighth-grader by the name of Lawrence King. Larry, as he was called, had already self-identified as gay. In February, he asked another boy to be his Valentine. The other boy, a kid named Brandon, didn’t take this invitation well at all. Instead of simply telling Larry “No, thanks,” he made it permanent by shooting him in the head and killing him.

Consider this senseless act of violence, and then juxtapose that information against the debate in the Florida House over the anti-bullying bill, named “The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act.” Johnston was a 15 year-old Cape Coral boy who killed himself after enduring nearly two years of harassment both in school and in cyberspace. His mother, a teacher, has been trying to get the bill passed for three years…and several LGBT-friendly organizations have been working this “school safety” legislation for much longer than that. The bill would instruct school districts to develop strategies for dealing with bullies and their parents. It spells out different types of bullying…including stalking and destruction of property. It also says it applies to bullying based on “sexual, racial or religious grounds”.

Just those three? An attempt to amend the bill to include “gender-based” bullying reportedly caused a 45-minute debate. The Democrats wanted the change, arguing that it was important to instruct people specifically on bullying because of “gender preference”. But the Republicans successfully argued against that inclusion because the bill was “about the bully, not the victims of bullying.”

The bill passed overwhelmingly. It’s now in the Florida Senate message calendar. And everyone in the Capitol can take comfort in knowing that it doesn’t “offend”.

But it does offend me. Because Lawrence King is not the first kid to get killed…or kill him/herself for being gay. And there is still so much tolerance for gay jokes and gay stereotypes and referring to things UNcool as "that's so gay". People will praise a movie like “Brokeback Mountain” for being groundbreaking and daring to depict two western men in love, and not stop to think, “Hey: it’s another mainstream film about a gay relationship that leaves lives in shambles, with one guy dead and another a drunken bum alone in a trailer.” The tears I shed for that film were not about the storyline, but about the constant presentation to an American audience that “those people are just dysfunctional”.

And the churches are not helping much. To be sure, there are those who are making efforts to include all of God’s children and make everyone sitting in the pews on Sunday feel welcomed to be there and share in hearing the Word of God. But then I read something like Rev. Matt Kennedy’s sermon, and I realize, in my universe of the Episcopal Church, we have miles to go before we can sit back and rest on our more evolved laurels with the requisite cocktail in hand.

“Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face”
--Psalm 105: 4

Those of us who are seeking God know that it will take patience, courage and strength to change minds and attitudes. May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, continue to move in this world and guide us toward more compassion for each other…for the Larrys and the Brandons…the legislators and the Matt Kennedys. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are right on again, and the legislators have forgotten that in order to be fully right, everyone, and that means everyone has to be included in a bullying bill because it is about the individual who is being hurt. Most of the suicides in this country are persons who are gay or are perceived gay....

It is time for a change a real change.