Saturday, November 27, 2010

Against Bullying: Some Resources

Still think bullying is the victim's fault? You really need to get over that. Anyone, particularly any gay man on a gay men's website, who denies that LGBT youth are in peril in today's society needs to have their cranium removed from their rectum. Yet I have seen plenty of such comments in recent weeks. That's either denial or veiled self-hatred, or both.

I heard more via email from friends in the gay men's chorus in San Francisco about the bullying/suicide connection. One of them passed on information about The GLBT National Help Center, support website with helpline phone numbers. Even though they're based in San Francisco, they are a template for many similar regional support services.

Some relevant facts to be found via The Trevor Project:

Additional Facts about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth

• Nine out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school; three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; and about one-third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe (2007 GLSEN National School Climate Survey).

• Almost all transgender students had been verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and gender expression (89%) (2009 GLSEN: Harsh Realities, The Experiences of Transgender Youth In Our Nation’s Schools).

• LGBT youth in rural communities and those with lower adult educational attainment face particularly hostile school climates (JG, Greytak EA, Diaz EM – Journal of Youth & Adolescence 2009)

• Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents are 190 percent more likely to use drugs and alcohol than are heterosexual teens (Marshal MP, Friedman MS, et al – Addiction 2008).

• It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (2006 National Gay & Lesbian Task Force: An Epidemic of Homelessness). 62% of homeless LGB youth will attempt suicide at least once—more than two times as many as their heterosexual peers (Van Leeuwen JMm et al – Child Welfare 2005)

Living as I do in a rural area, I see that third bullet point all the time. Most gays in my rural area are not out. Every time I post an online personal ad hoping to make a date with someone, fully half of the respondents are married men who want "boys on the side." I delete those responses without replying, since I don't want to tangled up in that kind of drama. (Nor am I interested in being part of someone's coming out process, being their therapist or guru, or whatever. Once they get past the initial few years of being out, maybe we can talk.)

Living a gay life in rural America is living in a mostly hostile environment.

California supports bullied young people. In early October 2010 a bill was signed into law:

SB 543 — Mental Health Services for At-Risk Youth — is an historic bill that allows youth 12 to 17 years old to receive mental health care without requiring their parents’ consent. LGBT youth across California who are fearful that their families could become abusive or kick them out if they come out—or refuse to consent to their obtaining mental health services—will now be able get the help they need, before it’s too late.

Equality California and Senator Mark Leno made this bill a priority to address the hostile environment too many of California's young people find themselves dealing with everyday, the kind of environment that has led to bullying, hate crimes and several recent tragic and heartbreaking suicides. This bill is one critical step to provide support for LGBT and questioning youth. But we have a long way to go to end the climate of terror that those who oppose equality and promote hatred have created.

I hope this law does start a trend. I hope that it does go federal, eventually.

But of course there will be the usual wingnut outcry against it from the right, which will no doubt label it as creeping socialism. Which of course it is not. But that's what keeps happening when the extremist ideology of individual liberty trumps the desire to maintain the social fabric. In fact, of course, the idea that kids can go seek help without their parents' consent is a triumph for individual liberty. But how many will perceive it that way? Wait and see.

I'm all about stuff we can DO, not just talk about, to counteract the effects of bullying and prejudice and hate. And sometimes words are the tools we can DO something with, too.

If you're a queer writer, or a queer artist, here's something else to do, to make it better: The Better Book Project, edited by Eric Nguyen:

Deadline: 30 December 2010

I think for any living queer (past high school) this is very hard to deal with. Our community is falling apart here. Our tribe is dying. It is definitely better now to be queer than in the past: but it’s still hard (I can go onto a whole sociological analysis of all this…but that’ll be like dissertation size, with a lot of unanswered questions [until I can get research done ] so I won’t). Obviously.

I am not part of any nonprofit organization. I can’t say that I’m an activist in that I stay in an office and do work to help past laws. (After many interviews, I don’t think I can truly be an activist in an office). But what I am is a writer. I am a part of culture. I am culture. (All writers and artists are). As a writer, I am doing what I can. I’ll do the only thing that I can do. Write. And edit.

Thus, my Better Book Project.

Inspired by Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, this is a project for the queer literary community. It is our chance (it’s our duty), to use our words to their full extent–to save lives, to communicate to our distant selves.

Think about yourself as a teenager. What story, what poem, what words would’ve made things better, in the face of bullies and unapproving family members, in a small town without a car perhaps, with no visible community? What would you tell them?

I am looking for words– stories, poems, essays, short memoirs–for an anthology tentatively titled BETTER: Stories, Poems, Essays, Words for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Teens About Growing Up, Surviving, Living, and Thriving. Publication is set for Summer 2011. Publication will first be through Lulu. All profit from this will go to a nonprofit that supports queer youth. Therefore, sadly, no payment. Think of it as a literary donation. No word minimums or limits, but remember that this is an anthology. Will seek publication through a publishing house for larger distribution (I’m thinking about where this book can be physically avaliable to kids, and public libraries don’t buy self-published titles), but we’ll see then.

Send all submissions to by December 30, 2010.

More (but not too much more) info at:

The genuinely positive side of the Internet: ending isolation for people who have no other easy way to connect with like-minded people, or others who are going through similar problems. The supportive connections are powerful and very helpful.

Here's something extremely cool:

An anti-bullying website for and by youth, gay and not, focusing on telling their stories, making a positive message, providing help, telling it like it is, and even a poetry contest. I've often said that making art is the best revenge, meaning that it's the best way to talk back, to stand up and be heard, and to survive. In my own darkest hours, making art, making music, is what has kept me alive.

This is one very good way to start making a difference, and getting out the anti-bullying message:

A Million Miles from Anywhere

A message from Sarah Silverman on bullying, and she just about says it all.

From The White House: It Gets Better

From The White House Blog, video clips of President Obama and Vice President Biden addressing the recent spate of suicides caused by bullying. It impresses me that the President spoke out on this, with his own view that it does indeed get better. There are also several links provided on the blog to resources about the suicide and bullying of gay issues.

It's good to see The White House throw their weight behind this issue. No matter what anyone thinks politically about whoever inhabits, will inhabit, or has inhabited The White House, it's really good that the Executive Branch has taken notice and said something about bullying and suicide, because this is an issue that affects every citizen, one way or another, beyond all political posturing and debate.

Ft. Worth, TX, City Councilman Joel Burns speaks out that It Gets Better. I found this video deeply moving. Maybe there's hope after all, if the younger generation of politicians, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, can be more like Joel Burns.

Pass this clip on to a troubled LGBT kid if you know one. It's sure to be helpful.

My Son Is Gay

What a super mom! Her attitude is the best anti-bullying tonic possible. What a great mom.

Some of the comments are shocking, though, in context. But these serve only to speak better of Supermom, who by contrast with those benighted souls is a shining light of heroic love.

Bullying & What It Leads To

I have not been an activist about any LGBT issues for some time. I used to be an activist for LGBT rights, marched in the streets, went and gave presentations to groups for the purposes of education, participated in and led forums and seminars and open classrooms. All of that and more.

For the past several years, I've been letting my artwork be my activism: my writing, my visual art, my other creative work. Everything I did was infiltrated with my sense of social justice, of human community, of equal rights. Some people noticed, most did not. Yet even my more personal, spiritual art has occasionally been recognized as political for merely existing: some topics, some issues, some imagery, by merely being addressed in art, and acknowledged in art, becomes political. If not overtly, than quietly.

There have been a lot of articles in the news in recent weeks and months about suicides by kids, gay and straight, who have been bullied. I find this horribly upsetting, and infuriating, and want to do something about it.

For example, the suicide of Tyler Clementi has galvanized gay rights grouped, and received significant coverage in the press. ironically, most press coverage of gay rights issues for the past few years has been mostly negative, reporting the erosion of rights or the ascendance of various homophobic religious and political groups, not excluding the so-called Tea Party.

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog has also been active on this subject, which is great, since that's one of the most-read blogs out there, especially by conservatives.

This current run of suicide stories tells me that this is the issue we really need to be working on.

People are dying. People are getting bullied for being gay, or just for being different, for being suspected of being gay, and there have been several suicides. For every one that reaches the attention of the national media, you can correctly assume there were several others that got no attention at all. And in the current political climate, which has swung far to the political right, many people who might have kept their prejudices silent before now seem to feel empowered to loudly broadcast them, and to act on them.

In my opinion, gay marriage comes a distant second as a gay rights issue—not that it shouldn't also be worked on diligently. But people are dying out there. We need to keep gay rights issues in perspective, that there are other issues besides gay marriage that are really more necessary, more urgent, and potentially more outright life-threatening to our people. (Don't even get me started on assimilationist vs. diversity movements within gay culture, and why they've become the way they are.) As long as kids are killing themselves for being different, gay marriage is frankly irrelevant.

I applaud Jon Savage and his It Gets Better project, and everyone else working to let the younger generation know that it does get better. That's where I'm going to be putting my limited activist energy, for now. I am working on a video and musical contribution, which I hope to complete and post soon.

And I strongly feel that the gay men's chorus that I sing with, and all such LGBT groups that present a positive public face to the world, have a real powerful message of self-acceptance and self-esteem to present, and keep presenting, and keep building on, till suicide is no longer the option taken by so many of the younger generation still being bullied just for being different.

I was severely bullied when I was a kid and well into my teens (and have written about it several times), and I made it through that hell to where I am now. Sure, it left some scars (chief among them being an innate distrust of most authority figures), but overall I've overcome it. Nothing would please me more than to see an end to bullying, not only against LGBT kids but against any kids who are seen as different. It does get better.

And don't try to tell me that the cultural environment in general, and the culture in school, are innocent in all this. At best, they're ignorant about bullying; at worst, they're complicit. Anyone who is willfully ignorant of the effects of bullying, because they can't be bothered, or because they think they're helpless to do anything about it, is complicit, even guilty of tacit support of bullying. That was the truth of my experience, and I see no evidence it's changed.

And the bullies will do their best to convince you that it's not happening, that there's nothing going on, and that we should all just "move on." This is also the message coming from many elements of the political right wing, who would like to see this all just go away. Is this merely coincidental, or a symptom in kind of the social environment that empowers bullies?

I remember Matthew Shepard at times like this. I've stood at that fence line overlooking Laramie, WY, and thought long and hard about what to do about it.

What groups like the gay men's choruses and other groups do, simply in being ambassadors of diversity and self-acceptance, goes a long way towards healing this horror. May we all continue to do so, as best we can.


There's a lot of denial about bullying still out there. It shows up even on gay online forums and dating sites, among those gay men who also tend to express anti-sissy, anti-femme preferences. The one thing bullies never do is take personal responsibility for what their actions and words do to others. When to comes to talking about bullying there's usually a ringing silence.

I am supportive of the gay marriage rights push, of the right of those who wish to get married to do so. I support the repeal of the military's ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy—although since the US military is an institution riddled with bureaucratic homophobia, I'm not holding my breath. (Meanwhile, the militaries of several of our allied nations in Europe are laughing at our military's policy, and rightly so.) I support the rights of gay parents to adopt children, to participate in the Boy Scouts (another case where I'm not holding my breath), and to openly go to as parents to PTA conferences.

The priority, however, is to stand up against the forces of hatred, no matter where they turn up, no matter when. To stand up to them and to tell them that they're wrong. No more children need die because of being bullied.

Young people being bullied, being targeted. Think about it.

At that age, who isn't confused and "overly emotional" most of the time. It's a very tough and turbulent time of life, and getting pushed over the edge is not just a matter of personal choice, it's a matter of being pushed by circumstances beyond what you can stand anymore.

At that age I was definitely living in fear. And the loneliness. Which can be so powerful, so hard to overcome. And which, if not relieved by finding a supportive community in which to counteract the effects of feeling isolated and lone, can become fatal.

Blame is not easy to fix. Yet there plainly does exist a hostile social environment that makes kids feel bad about themselves. Those forces that create such a hostile environment are what the fight is against, in the long run: that's the social-justice level of the fight, which cannot be overemphasized, even while we deal with the individual level of the fight and do our best to help those who have been put in our paths to help.

I've said for many years, in many ways, that we will only have achieved our goal of equality when it becomes true that being gay is No Big Deal in any way, shape, or form. We've a long way to go, still, before that's true.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Untitled by David Wojnarowicz

Untitled (One Day This Kid. . . ) by David Wojnarowicz, from 1991

This seems particularly relevant to post these days. And to remind everyone that this great, disturbing artist once lived, who made controversial art about his own sexuality and that of other gay men, and who died of AIDS. This piece has become famous as a postcard, and it seems like it's time to send it out to the world as a postcard again. Now more than ever its message needs repeating.

Update, just a few days later:

Interesting story: I reposted Wojnarowicz' art as here, along with the above, and other, comments about the artist, elsewhere on a gay social network website, and got some real flak for it. From New York City fags who believed it was old-fashioned and irrelevant to the present day! When I pointed out the continuity between this and the current spate of gay suicides around bullying, it created a firestorm.

It's like people already want to forget about bullying. Which is something I've written about before: the bullies shout loudly that there is no bullying, and try to shut you down if you say there is. But only the bullies want to "move on" from the bullying and suicide issues. (And why are so many of them avowedly conservative and/or Republican? Just a coincidence?) The fact is, the suicide and bullying issue is one that needs to stay in the public eye. I haven't been an activist in awhile, and I find myself becoming one again, lit on fire by this very issue.