Photo: Jack and his son, Elliot, on the NBC hit, Will & Grace
Since the beginning of time, there has been bullying of some sort; childish nicknames through to genocide. Looking back through history, we see examples of bullying and of laissez-faire attitudes from people who could have stopped it. Unfortunately, that is the way the world has worked and will continue to. Wars, politics and even the workplace are comprised of the bullies and the bullied. It has been said that the imbalance of power between countries resulted in WWI and WWII. This imbalance of power can be social or political. It affects everyone and anyone who can be perceived as a target. The most obvious targets are race, religion and sexuality.
What has changed though – particularly for young people in regards to targeted bullying for sexuality – is that the bullies now have a name for it. They can call a fellow student “gay.” And the chances are, as more and more people are brave enough to come out of the closet at a younger age, they are.
Bullying is never acceptable. It hides the weak under a guise of power. Being a victim is denying your own power to stand up for yourself.
Cast your minds back to your school days. Being gay may not have been talked about, but you were called, perhaps, “sissy,” “girl,” “nancy-boy,” because you couldn’t play sports or because you had more girlfriends then boyfriends. The change is, those taunts have been replaced with being called “gay.”
As I have said numerous times, bullying has to stop. But we also need to recognize that though there are pitfalls to coming out at a younger age, namely name calling and emotional and physical abuse, there is a shift in acceptance. A shift in understanding. Slowly but surely as more kids come out, calling someone gay simply won’t have the effect it does now.
Just last week, a lesbian couple were crowned America’s first Homecoming King and Queen. They thanked their friends and family for the outpouring of support.
They are a success story. They clearly show that attitudes have changed. Not only were they accepted by their peers, they were celebrated in one of the most important right of passage for American teenagers.
As more and more celebrities come out and more legislation is passed to give equal rights to gay people, America will see a decrease in bullying. How can you taunt someone for something that is normal? Not because you or I say it is, but because the government does.
At the end of the day, the band geek will get bullied, as will the figure skater, the blonde cheerleader, the dumb jock, the math and science geeks, and of course all those in the drama club. We have all seen our own version of mean girls (or boys). But life does go on, and when kids go to college, they have the freedom to remove the shackles of taunts from school and move into adulthood proud of who they are and who they will become.
In order to encourage this, I feel we need to take the sting out of bullying. We all need to post, tweet, text, Facebook and upload videos saying it does get better. And not just for gay teens, but for any child who is faced with taunting and verbal abuse.
Another factor I believe that is shifting attitudes and will eventually help in changing the attitudes of the next generation is the fact that there are over two million children in the US today who are part of an LGBT family.
From birth, they will be taught well-rounded acceptance. They will not judge sexuality. That is not to say they won’t grow up to be band geeks, or dumb jocks. It does mean, however, that “sexual bullying” not only has the gay name, but will have a whole generation of people who not only understand what it means to be gay, but see absolutely no issue with it. Quite simply, it is their normality.
I’m reminded of a “Will and Grace” episode where Jack’s son Elliot is embarrassed by him because he dances outrageously at his school dance and the girl Elliot likes comes up to him and tells him how good Jack is. His face changes slightly and says “maybe it’s because he is gay.” He says it in a frightened tone. The girl responds, “Oh one of my moms is gay. She is not a good dancer; she did build our house though.” It got the laughs, but it showed people, some five years ago, what it meant to be accepting. She sees no issue in the gay aspect or in the perceived stereotype. Rather, it is her reality. This will be seen more and more as the kids of LGBT families grow up.
This is the stage we need to set where there is no room for a bully. People always say “Don’t give them the satisfaction of reacting.” I say, “React!” Explain that there is not only nothing wrong with being gay, but that kids today are armed with a host of icons – people who have paved the way, changed the world, and who didn’t succumb to being called a “sissy,” or being imprisoned or being made to feel “less than.” As I said last week, those people–the activists, the fighters and the “normal” families of the LGBT community are the heroes. They are showing the next generation that being gay isn’t something to be bullied for. It’s not something at all. It’s just normal life.
Alex Vaughn is the Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Agenda. He can be reached at editor@FloridaAgenda.com