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After writing my previous post, I read this editorial by Richard Kim in The Nation; unfortunately, the online version is subscribers-only, but I'll try to quote the parts that I thought were really on-target.

I think he really gets it as to how the "epidemic of antigay bullying rhetoric" sucks the meaning out of what is -- as he says -- kids acting out the beliefs of their parents and the politicians they see on TV. Everyone is jumping in to say how "antigay bullying" is just like their own experiences getting bullied for being a nerd, for being a jock, for being -- I'm not kidding here -- white. And yes, kids can be utterly shitty to each other, because they're humans, and humans can be utterly shitty to each other, not to mention that kids have a less subtle palette than adults of ways of making others' lives miserable.

But the difference between "antigay bullying" and someone bullying you because you like to play Magic, or whatever, is that antigay bullying has an entire social structure that supports it, a structure made up of adults and authority figures. As Kim says elsewhere in the article, there is not that much difference between a school bully and Carl Paladino, except that people take Carl Paladino seriously. And, if we keep reducing homophobia to "bullying", they will continue doing so.
But for some gays and liberals shaken by [Tyler] Clementi's suicide, the complexities and unknowns don't seem to matter. It's convenient to make Ravi and Wei into little monsters singularly responsible for his death. In the words of Malcolm Lazin—the director of Equality Forum, a gay rights group calling for "murder by manslaughter" charges, a demand echoed on sympathetic blogs and Facebook pages—the duo's conduct was "willful and premeditated," an act so "shocking, malicious and heinous" that Ravi and Wei "had to know" it would be "emotionally explosive." Every one of these accusations is entirely speculative, a fact that you'd think Lazin, a former assistant US Attorney, would bear in mind before rounding up the firing squad.

[....]

In each of these cases, news reports focused almost exclusively on the bullies—other teenage kids—as the perpetrators in what's been dubbed "an epidemic of antigay bullying." In each of these cases, liberals and gays expressed dismay that the bullies weren't being charged with crimes. Few of the reports asked what home life was like for these gay teens or looked into what role teachers, schools and the community played in creating an environment where the only escape from such torment seemed to be death. And at least initially, too few drew the line to the messages mainstream adult America, especially its politicians, sends every day.... ....hateful utterances from the political class allow people to think of gays and lesbians as less than human, as deserving of contempt, assault, murder.

So when faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it's easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called "antigay bullying" and then confine it within the borders of the schoolyard.

It's tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive. But try—try as if someone's life depended on it. Imagine saying, I really wish my son turns out to be gay. Imagine hoping that your 2-year-old daughter grows up to be transgendered. Imagine not assuming the gender of your child's future prom date or spouse; imagine keeping that space blank or occupied by boys and girls of all types. Imagine petitioning your local board of education to hire more gay elementary school teachers.

Now imagine a world in which Tyler Clementi climbed up onto a ledge on the George Washington Bridge—and chose to climb back down instead. It's harder to do than you might think.

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Tim Chevalier

October 2017

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