The power behind the words...
As I left the mall recently and was loading items into my car, a group of kids no older than 13, hollered “faggot” at me as I took my place behind the steering wheel. Always quick with a witty comment, I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t think of any clever retort. The thought of hurling the nearest brick at these filthy miscreants crossed my mind, but I kind of wanted to spend the one sunny Pittsburgh day with my friends rather than in a cell at the local prison.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, I drove home without the stereo on, in complete silence. Thoughts loomed through my mind - my feelings weren’t hurt, it’s not as if this were the first (or last) time someone threw an insult my way, but I still felt bad. Bad for those kids. I felt bad for the fact that they were so ignorant, so uncultured, so needlessly cruel. They didn’t need a brick hurled at them; they needed a lecture, someone to teach them the difference between right and wrong. Maybe they had serious issues and needed someone to love them? Or maybe they were “just being kids.”
The more I think about it, that excuse doesn’t really fly with me anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m well beyond the age of adolescence, and don’t get my kicks from chilling in the mall parking lot with my gang. I’m 28 and well aware that it takes all kinds of people to keep this earth spinning on its axis. I can handle the occasional name-calling or offhand remark. But, what about the kids ½ my age, dealing with growing pains, discovering themselves, confused about the world and their sexuality? Bullying in schools has seemed to increase exponentially, and sadly, not all teenagers are equipped with the skills to handle their detractors antagonizing.
Last summer, I read a heart-wrenching and rather infuriating article in the Associate Press about Justin Aaberg. A 15 year-old from Andover, Minnesota, Justin hanged himself because of constant bullying from classmates regarding his sexual orientation. Only one in a string of teen suicides, it was all over the news; naturally, Nancy Grace ate it up like a buffet.
While I’m not normally a fan of the media’s often run-a-news-story-into-the-ground style tactics (haven’t the victims’ family and friends suffered enough?), this particular case had so many different facets involved, that its abundant coverage seemed almost necessary.
The article and news stories discussed the need for implementing strict bullying policies in schools, and dissected the differing opinions of Gay-Rights supporters, religious conservatives, school officials, and even teachers. Aaberg’s school district called for “neutrality” regarding the discussion of sexuality; naturally, school officials backed down in intervening in anti-gay bullying.
Following a handful of suicides in the same school district, where bullying may have played a role, the district changed its tune and informed teachers that failing to intervene in anti-gay harassment was grounds for punishment. Apparently, it takes a half-dozen suicides to remove the blinders. Still, it seems an iffy subject, where officials never seem quite sure as to how far to intervene. To me, guidelines should be a little clearer, rather than being written in disappearing ink.
I often wonder how much bullying and acceptance issues have to do with location. Though Pittsburgh isn’t exactly the cultural epicenter of the world, I wasn’t expecting to be called a fag while minding my own business as I walked through the parking lot. It seems that certain areas of the country are more intolerant of the intolerance, while others tend to sweep the subject under the rug. I was always under the impression that completely ignoring conflict just created more conflict. Will it ever change?