Someone’s son. Someone’s brother. Someone’s grandson, nephew, cousin, friend. Some were gay, some we don’t know…not that it matters really…what matters is someone thought they might be and that was reason enough to torment them.
Now they are gone, their short lives ended by their own hands. You and I are left with a world with four fewer sensitive, compassionate, unique souls but where the bullies will grow up and have kids of their own–a new generation of bullies and bigots.
It’s important to remember that the bullies that drove these kids to such desperation that they believed their lives were not worth living do not reside only on our playgrounds and in our locker rooms. No. Schoolyard bullies are merely one piece of a much larger and coordinated effort to make life a living hell for anyone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.
Yes, I said coordinated. Yes, I meant it.
No, I don’t think that hate groups like the Family Research Council or National Organization for Marriage (or Focus on the Family, or the Mormon Church, which spawned them, respectively) have deliberately recruited an army of adolescent bullies. But I also don’t believe for one second that the impact that their hateful, deceitful campaigns have on young homophobes is lost on them. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that at least some of the bullies involved in these four cases believed that they were exercising their First Amendment rights when they degraded and humiliated kids they knew or believed to be gay. They got that idea from the “poor, persecuted Christian”-rhetoric of groups like FRC and NOM, who are increasingly leaning on an argument of “protecting religious freedom” as justification for their absolutely un-American bigotry, as all of their standard sociological, psychological, and legal arguments are being repudiated left and right.
Still, the blame does not solely rest on the shoulders of the bullies, young or old, but also on the indifferent, cooperative, and cynical. The blame rests on the shoulders of people who donate to groups like Focus on the Family, the Mormon Church, the Knights of Columbus, etc…and vote for any candidate for political office who opposes marriage equality, job and housing protections for LGBT people, hate crimes laws and anti-bullying measures in schools. No amount of rationalization, no amount of “well, I like their fiscal policy not their social policy”- bullshit is going to return these four boys to their mother’s arms.
The fact is, it’s not the bullying that kills these kids, it is the loss of hope. They get to a point where the hell they are in is greater than any future they can imagine — and who can blame them? In addition to cacophony of hate they hear from their peers every single day, they get to hear the opinions of politicians, pundits, and clergy telling them that they are “less than.” Every two years they get to watch as the LGBT community is used as a convenient punching bag for campaigning politicians and political strategists looking to ignite the passions of their “base” or raise a few bucks. They get to listen to politicians promise them hope and change, and then watch them obstinately refuse to even attempt to meaningfully fulfill those promises because it’s not politically expedient to do so. They get to watch their hopes and dreams of working in the profession of their choice destroyed to settle some partisan score. They watch the groups that are supposed to represent them throw fabulous parties and galas and then sell them out to maintain the organizations own “relevance.”
The people and places to whom they should be able to turn in their despair are, unfortunately, just as tainted by the pollution of hate. Three of these kids were school-aged and their bullying was no secret, regardless of what their ass-covering school district administrations are now saying. Kids knew, parents knew, parents of other kids knew. Why was no one listening? Where were the teachers and administrators? Perhaps we could have found them on Sunday mornings, listening to toxic sermons from hypocritical clergy. Perhaps they were busy contemplating their purpose-driven lives, or reading devotionals on topics like mercy, grace, and justice. I hope they get sued blind. I hope their conscience eats at them every single day for the rest of their lives.
Keep in mind, these are just the suicides we know about. There are other. Thousands every year.
These are just kids. They don’t have jaded cynicism that comes with the life experience of adulthood. They don’t have the sense of perspective to listen to the news and say “well, same shit, different day.” They can’t grasp the concept of the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice while they’re getting the crap kicked out them or being stuffed in a garbage can. And we shouldn’t expect them, or ask them, to “buck up” — we can never, ever lose sight of the fact that they are just children and they should be allowed to be children. It’s our job to protect them, and frankly America, we’re doing a piss poor job of it.