Gay Times, bad times:

That was the heading in Australia Age news paper today.  The story was actually a well researched one, with lots of good points, the central one being that bullying of gay kids is far too prevalent, and should stop.  But I am gonna take a different spin on the story.

The article cites a number of examples of how gay youth are mistreated: by organisations like schools, by bullies, and by family members.    Overall it paints a negative picture about gay rights for kids, and being young and gay.

I completely agree with the underlying message that bullying of gays has to stop and that everyone has a part to play in this, including family, schools, and workplaces. BUT I disagree with their central premise that somehow it’s getting worse.  Coz I dont think it is.  I think it’s getting better.

In fact one commenter on the Age web site summarised it so well:

The article states: Young homosexuals are suffering more abuse than ever, particularly in schools.

The reply: With the exception of all of human history up to this point

I think it’s getting MUCH MUCH better and here’s why.

The first story cites the example of a boy picked on by a teacher:

At the time, Yan was in year 11, putting up posters in the school library, publicising a national day of action in support of gay marriage. A teacher approached, read the material, and spat out the words that still make him burn with indignation: ”You don’t know what marriage is, faggot boy.”

The library was packed with students, many of whom heard the exchange and looked up in dismay. News of the teacher’s comments quickly spread around the campus, and it wasn’t long before students organised a snap rally outside his office, demanding an apology. 

The teacher eventually resigned, but for a young bloke who was still coming to terms with his sexuality, the damage was done.

Clearly the teacher’s behavior is unacceptable.  But I want to focus on the reaction and ultimate outcome here.  Not only did enough students collectively condemn the behaviour of the teacher, but eventually the teacher resigned, something that I don’t believe would have happened 20 years ago. 

I think there are many positives to take from this example:

  • a year 11 was out there putting up posters about gay marriage (go Yan!  This would have been unheard of, even impossible, 20 years ago)
  • enough students rallied behind the kid as a result of the teacher’s comments (awesome collective responsibility)
  • the teacher felt it best he resigned (good – they have no place teaching kids with views like that)

Based on my experience, 20 years ago the number of out gay teenagers at school could be counted on one hand (in fact I don’t remember ANY).  Nowadays almost every school has some out kids, and many others that know they are gay, but keep it to a close group of friends.   Overall this is a GOOD thing.  But it does mean now that gay youth are more identifiable.  So yes, at times they will be hassled (and sometimes even bullied and mistreated) more.   I want to be very clear here: This bullying and abuse (physical and emotional) is unacceptable. But I am making a tangential point, and that is that one  of the biggest reasons that gay youth are so identifiable is that it’s far safer than it every has been to be out and gay.   This is a good thing.

It’s a Journey

I think the current issues are all part of a journey.  50 years ago one almost couldn’t be out safely at school. 20 years ago one could, but it had it’s dangers, and hardly anyone would support you if you had an issue. Now one can be young, out and proud, but yes there are still those that will abuse these kids as a result.  The GOOD part of this story is how in many cases someone does something about it (albeit not enough).  We still have a long way to go, but the mere fact that so many are concerned by actions of certain individuals is cause for celebration (maybe the wrong word, but can’t think of a better one right now).

My point here is that we now live in a world that being gay is more acceptable, and as a result more people (including kids) are saying Hey I’m gay. This is a very positive step.  But with it comes some new challenges. Being identifiable means bullies can target them more easily.   I don’t think we will ever stop homophobia completely, just like we will never stop sexism or racism.  But what we can stop is institutional homophobia (and sexism, and racism) so that when events do occur, they are dealt with and a clear message is heard – it’s not only OK to be gay, but if someone hassles a gay kid (on any level), then they are the one that’s in the wrong and they will get dealt with.

We are far from there yet.  There is still too much bullying.  There is still too little response to it.  There is still too much hatred, too much violence.  Let’s take that all as read.  My message here is based the fact that I have always been a glass half full kinda person.  Hell, if my glass didn’t have anything in it, I would be grateful for the glass!  There is much positive to be taken from this story, even though it cites so many negative examples.  We just need to keep on with the work.

The message for gay youth out there is clear in my mind: Know that it gets better. MUCH MUCH better.

The end of the article summarises it well:

“But what we’re really talking about here is social change,” says La Trobe’s Lynne Hillier. ”And social change never happens without a struggle.”

Black and White Version: There are still challenges with being gay, especially for youth, even in liberal western countries.  We are on a journey here – and while we haven’t reached the destination, IMO, we are heading in the right direction.

PS: Thanks for Glen T for telling me about the typos.  Well OK, some of the typos :-)

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