News & Politics

Bullies in the pulpit

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This past week, as National Bullying Prevention Month was kicking off, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett was chatting with a local news station, comparing same-sex marriage to incest. He was actually apologizing for having earlier compared gay marriage to the union of two children. “I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” he asked the interviewer.

Much outrage followed. In his apology for the apology, Corbett said, “My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize.” Not unlike other politicians who spew anti-gay remarks and are then bummed out by the negative press, Corbett feigned obliviousness. How could he possibly have guessed that comparing my marriage to incest would hurt my feelings or those of my children?

Politicians who make bigoted comments are always very quick to deny that they are bigoted. Their remarks were taken out of context. The offense was unintentional.  They were just joking.

They were only expressing a deeply held belief. A belief that one group of people is fundamentally less worthy of respect than everyone else. That belief then winds its way down, passed from politician to parent, from parent to child, from child to friends. And so the bullying begins.

Then, when the relentless harassment finally pushes a child to do the unthinkable, we blame the schoolyard bullies. We blame the bystanders who did nothing. We blame the school for failing to act on the child’s behalf.

We don’t blame our government, which discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. We don’t hold our political leaders accountable for comparing same-sex marriage to incest, bestiality, drug addiction, child pornography and every other indecency plaguing our society. We don’t indict them for painting apocalyptic images of the destruction of civilization if gay people are permitted to marry their partners. “This issue will destroy and undermine the church in America more than any other movement,” former Sen. Rick Santorum told attendees at a fundraiser for the Family Policy Institute last year. “This is what you are fighting. You are on the front lines.”

The front lines.

For some reason, we don’t hold our lawmakers directly responsible for teen violence when they deliberately use violent war imagery to fire up supporters, painting LGBT people—both adults and children—as the enemy that will destroy our country. Is it so surprising that LGBT youth remain targets in the halls of their schools?

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We live in a country where same-sex marriage is still illegal in 35 states. In 29 states, it is still perfectly legal to fire somebody because they’re gay, and 33 states permit such discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Even in relatively progressive states, young people routinely see clear evidence of LGBT inequity. Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie filed an appeal to block the Superior Court’s ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry by Oct. 21. In his appeal, Christie said that if the court allows marriage to go ahead, “the state will suffer irreparable harm.”

That’s right. The state of New Jersey will suffer irreparable harm if my partner and I are allowed to wed legally. Yet Christie is also for stringent anti-bullying legislation; New Jersey’s “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” signed by Christie in January 2011, is arguably the toughest in the country. When Rutgers student Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, Gov. Christie called the suicide “an unspeakable tragedy.” He added that he didn’t know how Dharun Ravi and Michelle Wei, who live-streamed a romantic encounter between Clementi and another man days before his suicide, could sleep at night “knowing that they contributed to driving that young man to that alternative.”

chris-christie-via-wsjTheir actions were reprehensible, to be sure. But who taught them that Clementi’s sexual orientation was worthy of contempt? Do governors who veto equality for same-sex couples not also contribute to the poisonous viewpoint that such LGBT people are less than? Do they not contribute to the insecurity, depression and self-loathing felt by LGBT teens who ultimately see death as the only solution? How well should those governors be sleeping at night?

It’s really pretty simple. If we allow bias to be the law of the land, then let’s not feign outrage when it’s the law of the schoolyard, too.

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  1. C.J., this is spot on. The one time they DON’T believe in trickle down….

  2. SO true, Robert. Maddening.

  3. The line you draw, from adult leaders in the public sphere to harassing homophobes-in-training on the playground, is totally and completely vital. Also brilliant. Also (surprisingly!) unseen. Again and again and again. And yet I think you are so right, C.J.

    Christie’s hypocrisy is particularly appalling. And truly hard to believe. One of those two positions of his is totally disingenuous. I just can’t tell which.

  4. Thank you, Polly! I find it just so infuriating that people don’t see the connection. When I saw that quote from Christie re: Tyler, I couldn’t believe it. But these folks love to separate the two issues so they can appear caring and empathic toward the kids but tough on the gays. Kinda makes me sick.

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