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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The humiliation continues...

There has been a lot of talk these days about the tragic suicides of a number of young men recently.  They were teased, bullied and humiliated for being gay until they couldn't take it any more. 

At first, the resounding condemnation of bullying and support for gay youth was good to see.  As time went on, however, a strange sort of momentum has been building up, and I'm finding it quite disturbing.  These young people, who lived such short, pain filled lives, are still being used and abused, even in death.  Their new abusers, however, are those who claim to be their defenders.  Now, everyone from special interest groups with specific agendas, to individuals with their own bones to pick, are using these deaths for their own ends.  They are continuing the humiliation these young men killed themselves trying to escape to further their own ends, and it's beginning to sicken me.

Bullying has long been a problem, and it's one that has become increasingly vicious and widespread over the years.  In my own youth, I was no stranger to bullying, as witness and as target.  I'm ashamed to admit I did some of it myself.

I've known a few people over the years, young and old, who have committed suicide.  Mostly young.  I certainly had suicidal thoughts myself my youth. One young man I knew killed himself after his marriage proposal to his girlfriend was rejected.  Another young man (who's death was officially ruled an accident, but his friends knew otherwise) was troubled and probably depressive, with no support he felt he could turn to at home.  Another young man who killed himself was a total shock to all who knew him.  Probably the only person who knew why he killed himself was his identical twin brother, who also killed himself a short time later.

Of all the successful suicides I knew, only one was actually due to bullying.  This young man was a neighbour of ours growing up.  He was in the same age range as my brothers and used to come over to our place to play, but there was some sort of falling out among them that somehow ended up involving the parents. So even though this family were the only people who lived less than a mile from our own farm, I pretty much never saw him growing up.  He was even on a different bus to school and I just didn't see him much.  I do remember that he was teased rather horribly.  One of the things he was teased about was being gay, a concept I didn't even completely understand at my age at the time.  Whether or not he was actually gay, I have no idea. I doubt the bullies that were teasing him knew - or cared - whether he really was gay or not.  After graduation, he took a job up North with a logging company and was gone for a number of years.  When he came back, amazingly, the teasing continued as if it had never stopped. By then, of course, these were all adults doing the bullying.  Yes, he was still being teased for being gay, but he was teased just as much for being such a huge fan of Dolly Parton's.

One day, after supper with his parents, he complimented his mother on the excellent meal, then said he was going to go outside for a smoke.   He never came back.  It was a couple of hours later that his father discovered one of their rifles was gone, too.  This being the country, if anyone ever heard the shot, no one would have noted it as unusual.  It was a month before his body was found, hidden in some bushes.

I have no way of knowing if his tormentors felt any guilt for their part in his death.  The bullying was only one facet of the pain in this young man's life.  There were others who were bullied just as much as he was, but somehow they managed to keep on going, and the bullies eventually left them alone.  Why that didn't happen with this young man is something that can only be guessed at.

There's one thing to note about the bullies of this young man.  None of them were particularly religious.  Of the few that did go to church, it was because their families made them go.  Most were actually of no religious affiliation at all.  I mention this because religion is being blamed for these recent suicides I'm hearing so much about right now.

Bullies don't really need a reason to bully.  In fact, they might not even have a reason at all.  The one time I behaved in such a horrible fashion, the closest thing to a reason for doing it was because... well, I thought that that's how I was supposed to treat this particular person.  I was a terrible one for doing what I thought I was "supposed" to do.  It somehow got so ingrained in me to follow expectations that, after I got my driver's license, I actually would feel an overwhelming urge while driving to take every turning lane I passed,  I would actually feel guilty if I didn't, because people built these turning lanes to be used and, by not using them, I was somehow letting them down.  Yeah.  I know.  Bizarre.  It was this same mentality, however, that had me doing what I saw as an expectation - for some reason, I was *supposed* to treat this person badly, so I did it.  After all these years, my cheeks burn with shame just writing about it, and I wish I knew of some way to apologise to this person.

Pretty much everyone made fun of this girl.  For some reason, individuals become specific targets for bullying.  It may be because of a difference in their appearance, behaviour, interests - or just because someone decided that *this* person would be the target of their bullying, and others just followed along.

That these young men were bullied for being gay is horrible.  From what I've read, one of them wasn't gay but, like my former neighbour, that was irrelevant to his tormentors.  The thing is, all bullying, teasing, tormenting and humiliation is wrong and horrible and needs to be stopped.  It's not just gay kids. Kids (mostly girls) have killed themselves or wanted to do so after being teased for being fat - in fact fat kids and adults alike are being told outright they should commit suicide, just because they're fat (if you doubt me, spend a bit of time reading the comments after most obesity related news articles).  Like the gay taunts, it doesn't even matter if they really are fat.  Kids are teased and bullied for being skinny, too.  They're bullied for their skin colour, their hair, their economic status, their intelligence, their interests, their religion, their ethnic background, their clothing, their speech mannerisms... anything can and does become a reason to bully. 

This is where I'm seeing the tragedy of these young men who killed themselves being compounded by those who are now using their deaths to further their own ends.  Some people have been deeply moved and inspired to reach out by these deaths.  Others are using their deaths to lash out with their own hatred.

The most notable target for this hatred is religion - which it is clearly specific to Christianity in general and especially those who object to gay marriage (never mind that many gays also disagree with changing the marriage laws, and that there are Christian/religious gays out there who find comfort and peace in their faith).

The deaths of these young men has been a boon to those who hate Christianity. More and more, I'm seeing articles, editorials and letters where people are blaming these suicides specifically on (Christian) religion, which is inevitably described as being hateful.  I just read one particular response to a letter writer (who identified only vaguely as Christian) objecting to the accusations that, by being religious, they and their beliefs were somehow responsible for these young men's deaths.  The response article I read was angry, rude, expletive filled and very hateful.

The anti-religious people that are using the deaths of these young men to attack religion are in a sweet spot right now.  They can spew the most vile accusations and rhetoric, and that's okay, as it's considered justified.  After all, gays are dying! In fact, the writer even mentioned he'd just learned about more young people who had committed suicide, and laid blame for their deaths at the feet of religion, too.  That no mention of these other deaths having anything to do with being gay was irrelevant.  It's as if all teen suicides are now assumed to be because they were gay and being teased for it.  Blame for this is being put on religion, but people of faith cannot defend themselves against the accusation.  The mere act of objecting is viewed as proof of their hate and bigotry.  People of faith are supposed to just accept that they're guilty and meekly allow themselves and their beliefs to be trashed with abandon.  In fact, any disagreement of anything gays do is labeled hatred against gays (again, ignoring the fact that gays aren't all one homogeneous group that agrees on the same things to begin with).

Among the accusations made is that hatred against gays is being preached from the pulpits; that religious parents are indoctrinating their kids with this hatred at home, and that by these actions, their kids are being encouraged to bully other kids for being gay.

To those who actually believe this, I have this to ask.

How do you know that the people who bullied these young men are even religious?  What makes you so sure that religion had anything to do with why they are bullying?  Do you even know who the bullies were?  Do you know anything about their backgrounds?  Do you really think that the guy who recorded the young man having gay sex, then posted the video on the internet, did it because of his religious indoctrination?

Somehow, I don't think so. 

Bullies do not need religion to justify their bullying.  They don't need anything to justify their bullying.  Bullying is a completely separate issue that crosses all boundaries.  That some people actually do use their religion to justify their behaviour (and that applies to adults as much as kids) is irrelevant.  People who bully will use any excuse that is convenient to justify their behaviour.

Just as those who now spew hatred against religion are using the deaths of these young men to justify their anger and vile words.

How they killed themselves is being repeatedly described with morbid fascination, as are the methods by which they were tormented.  It doesn't matter that people are continuing the humiliation these young men suffered in life.  They're dead, and who cares what their families might be feeling, having salt poured on the wounds left by the deaths of those they loved, watching their sons, brothers, friends turned into public figureheads based on nothing more then their being gay (including the one that wasn't actually gay).  Tell me, do these people busily attacking religion actually care for anything else about these young men?  They are so obsessed with their deaths, they're forgetting about their lives.  These young men were people, with dreams and interests, talents and skills.  Their entire existences are being reduced to being gay (even the one that wasn't) and being bullied, teased and humiliated to the point of suicide.

Bullying and hatred is wrong, plain and simple.  Too many kids are being bullied to death.  It needs to be stood up against and stopped.  That people are using these particular suicides to further their own causes and to justify their own versions of bullying and hatred is also wrong.

I don't care what your cause is.  It doesn't matter if I agree with it or not.  If you are using bullying tactics and spreading hate to further it, you are just as much in the wrong as the groups you accuse of doing the same.

And for God's sake (am I allowed to say that?), please stop using these young men to justify and spread your hate.  Doing so makes you as abhorrent as those who drove them to suicide in the first place.

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