Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Should Gays Leave The South?

On their facebook page today, Out on the Town Magazine asked a question of their readers regarding the status of equality for LGBT people in the South. Their post said, “a lot of comments on these stories place blame on gay Southerners for choosing to live in such an intolerant place. How do you respond to people who believe its “your fault” for being discriminated against in a region we consider our home?”. 

Such comments regarding LGBT people in the South are not an anomaly, for I have also noticed, on both LGBT and non-LGBT blogs and news articles, comments that have the same tone.  To these commentators, many of whom live in more progressive states like New York and California, it is incomprehensible that LGBT people would willingly subject themselves to the overt discrimination that exists in the states of the South. They can’t understand why we won’t pick up and move to places where we won’t be fired because of our sexual orientation or gender identity; and they can’t understand why we stay in states where religious leaders and politicians are able to spew vitriol, lies, and hatred openly about our community.

Though I am not from the South originally (I hail from Illinois), I consider Tennessee more of my home state than where I grew up, and thus, it is quite discouraging for me to read many of these anti-Southern comments. Yes, it is known that the South has a long way to go when it comes to equality for its LGBT citizens, but is “retreat” the answer to the hatred that we face? Should we allow the people and the states of the South to continue in their persecution of LGBT children and adults, yet offer no rebuttal or fight? Does that not make us cowards and undeserving of equality, when we won’t even fight against our oppressors and instead capitulate to their hatred by leaving for greener pastures?

The attitude that LGBT people should just leave states that are not welcoming, whether they are in the South or not, also fails to recognize that LGBT adults are not the only ones who live in these states.  Many times, LGBT children are not given the option, or even have the resources, to pick up and leave these oppressive environments. Are we to sacrifice their well-being so that we adults might feel more equal? If all the LGBT adults are gone, who will be there to fight for anti-bullying legislation? Who will be there to offer support and guidance to these children when they experience discrimination and persecution in their lives? Yes, there will be straight allies, and God knows I love them, but these children need role models who have experienced the same persecution, yet have overcome it.

Those who say to us, “come to the welcoming states, why would you want to live in the South” want us to take the easy way out. Though they might not realize it, by asking why any LGBT person would want to live in a bigoted society, what they are truly saying is that such societies are too far gone to be of any use to our community. I reject this notion, for I see the South as having the potential to be a haven for LGBT people, and I am thankful that are people in my life who have stuck it out, fought the good fight against the constant barrage of hatred and discrimination, and who strive to make an impact for our community each and every day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gay Kids Choose To Be Bullied

The bullying of LGBT children has become a common theme of late, with state governments around the nation addressing this controversial topic. Just this past Friday, a 14-year old boy from Tennessee took his own life because of the constant harassment and degradation that allegedly went unaddressed by school officials. Countless others have taken their lives over the past few years, because of the torment that their fellow students inflict upon them because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

In response too many of these tragic deaths, religious individuals across the nation have decided that instead of addressing the topic of LGBT bullying directly (aka. punishing the bully), it is the fault of those students who are LGBT that they are being bullied. These people assert that if those students would be “normal” (aka. straight), they would not be bullied. But because these children have ‘chosen’ to be gay, it comes along with the territory that they would be bullied for that ‘choice’.  To these individuals, the increased rates of suicide, depression, and substance abuse of LGBT teens is a direct consequence of their choice in sexual orientation. Because they believe that there is something inherently disordered about a homosexual sexual orientation or a differing gender identity, they ‘logically conclude’ that such a disorder has other consequences. A gay kid commits suicide, not because he is bullied because of his sexual orientation, but because he knows that there is something intrinsically wrong with him. That the tormenting words of the bullies are true, that he is a “fag” and that he somehow made the choice to be one.

The psychological torment associated with such a belief drives many LGBT children to depression and even suicide. When you are told that you have chosen something inherently disordered, yet do not even recall making that choice, you start to believe that there is something wrong with you; that you are “damaged goods”. To these children, there seems to be no hope, because no matter how hard they try, they cannot change the feelings and attractions that they have.

I know what the kids feel, because I have been there. From my first recollection of having a “crush” (I was six, so I don’t know if crush is the best word) on the tour guide at Disney world, I knew that I was different. Though I was homeschooled, and thus escaped much of the daily harassment that LGBT children go through, I was exposed to some through sports leagues. I was told I was a sissy, a girl, and made fun of for sitting with my legs crossed (and this was in a religious league). I have known the hopelessness of being told that something was ‘wrong’ with me, and that I was living in rebellion. I have tried to change my sexual orientation (8 months’ worth of trying), and could not make myself ‘normal’.  I barely escaped with my life, some days just wanting to end it all because I could not live with myself, knowing that I was gay, yet trying to come to grips with the messages that were being flung at me by my religious community, my family, and my friends.

In my last post, I discussed the notion of power when it comes to rights, responsibilities, and protections of vulnerable minorities. The new tactic by religious leaders, state legislators, and religious individuals of blaming the victim for anti-gay bullying ties well into this power framework. If these individuals recognize that such bullying exists and that it must be addressed, their very conception of homosexuality and gender identity as ‘disordered’ and ‘sinful’ must also be addressed. No longer will it be appropriate to tell these children that they made the choice to be gay and that they must live with the consequences of such a disordered choice, for instead such children will need to be protected and validated. Such validation goes against the entire pyramid of Judeo-Christian superiority, where ‘traditional morals’ must be enforced even if such morals destroy the lives of countless children, families, and churches.

Thankfully, the American public is waking up to the fact that bullying, no matter if it is because of ones’ sexual orientation, weight, race, or creed, is wrong. They know that the fault for bullying lies not with the victim, but instead with the oppressor. And it is because of this that I know that the virulent rhetoric of fundamentalism, which blames the oppressed instead of the oppressor, is increasingly falling on deaf ears. But till such voices are finally regulated to the fringe, I must ask - how many children must we lose before the American people fully recognize that being bullied because of one’s sexual orientation is wrong? 
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