The Department of Education sent a letter to schools, colleges and universities Tuesday warning them that failing to stop bullying could violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The letter comes amid growing concern that there may be a religious undercurrent to the harassment of teens who are seen as gay.
Consider Justin Anderson, who graduated from Blaine High School outside Minneapolis last year. He says his teenage years were a living hell. From sixth grade on, he heard the same taunts.
"People say things like, 'Fags should just disappear so we don't have to deal with them anymore'; and, 'Fags are disgusting and sinful,' " he told the Anoka-Hennepin School Board. "And still, there was no one intervening. I began to feel so worthless and ashamed and unloved that I began to think about taking my life."
Anderson told his story at a public hearing last month — a hearing convened because in the past year, the district has seen a spate of student suicides. Four of those suicides have been linked to anti-gay bullying.
Justin Anderson survived. Justin Aaberg did not. Aaberg, 15, loved the cello, both playing and composing numbers like "Incinerate," which he posted on YouTube. Justin was openly gay. He had plenty of friends, but he was repeatedly bullied in his school. In July, his mother, Tammy, found her teenage son hanging from his bed frame.
"They were calling him, 'Faggot, you're gay,' " she recalls. " 'The Bible says that you're going to burn hell.' 'God doesn't love you.' Things like that."
There are some people who don't particularly care for queers interviewed--one teacher, representative of an evangelical group, says that teaching students that it's okay not to be straight is a violation of religious freedom, but Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council stands out. Facts, see, don't matter.
"There's no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide," he says.
Rather, Perkins says, there is another factor that leads kids to kill themselves.
"These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict," he says.
Homosexuality is "abnormal," he says, and kids know it, which leads them to despair. That's why he wants to confront gay activism in public schools. For example, his group supports the Day of Truth, when Christian high-schoolers make their case that homosexuality is a sin.
But Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical who teaches psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, says there is a problem with this argument: Many of the kids who commit suicide aren't gay.
"The common element is not gay identification," he says. "The common element is anti-gay harassment. And so it isn't a matter of them being gay and unhappy. It's a matter of others tormenting them with gay slurs."
These people's ideas should be, and are being, fought with reason. Anger also works; the chorus of this hit 2005 Mylène Farmer pop songs go represents my opinion of them perfectly.
When Voltaire was talking about cannibals, he included people like Perkins in that category.