Anti-bullying: Gay agenda, or not, the most vulnerable are losing
Anti-bullying movements, accused by conservative Christians of having a gay agenda, do tend to focus on gay victims because studies show they’re bullied most; but anti-bullying hype inflates what bullying really is. Both sides may be missing the point: helping the most vulnerable.
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Many take the stance like that of the California-based Protect Kids Foundation: “Since directly promoting homosexual lifestyles to children is too controversial, LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] activists hide their agenda behind the ‘safe schools’ and ‘anti-bullying’ curricula.”Skip to next paragraph
is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..
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Other groups go even further in that stance, notes a report by the People For the American Way: “These groups smeared and demonized advocacy groups that collaborate with teachers and administrators in developing best practices to combat bullying, warning that anti-bullying groups would encourage everything from 'homosexualizing' youth to anti-Christian persecution to pedophilia.”
Wow. Somebody – besides us – actually criticizing the anti-bullying movement. But from a whole different angle.
Which is not to say it’s an angle that’s come out of nowhere. Over recent years, the mainstream anti-bullying movement has taken the stance that everyone is at risk of being bullied. This is, in large part, an institutional approach that is supposed to take blame away from the victim, to get away from the “well what did he do to provoke it” perspective.
There are some good reasons for that. But there’s also a problem: A lot of research shows that this idea of equality in bullying just isn’t valid.
LGBT students – and those perceived to be LGBT – face far, far more bullying than straight students, according to numerous studies. A 2009 report on school climate by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network found, for instance, that 84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed at school and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation. These numbers are far higher – double or even triple – what straight students told researchers they experienced.
(A quick side note here: As we’ve discussed in other articles, “harassment” does not equal “bullying,” at least not if you’re going by the standard academic definition of bullying, which includes repeated behavior and a power differential between bully and victim. But these sorts of stats can help describe a school’s general social atmosphere.)
Given the disproportionate impact of bullying on LGBT students, some researchers say that anti-bullying campaigns lose their teeth when they ignore the sexual orientation aspect of student-on-student cruelty. But focusing on that aspect of bullying is a harder sell in many communities – and often less likely to spark the overwhelming, widespread support of parents, politicians, and educators who have been behind the anti-bullying movement.
As the conservative Christian anti-gay groups point out, many anti-bullying curricula address “tolerance” and the need to fight homophobia as part of a more general, and less specific, “safe schools” program. These right-wing groups find this sneaky, and dangerous.
Others might find it dangerous for a different reason. Get caught up in the hype of the anti-bully movement – where every nasty comment is considered bullying, and where everyone, from TV anchors to bus monitors to high school students, is an equally likely bullying victim – and, all of a sudden, you lose focus on those kids who are most at risk.