Feminists Be Silent! Making a Stand in Solidarity with our LGBT Friends Against Bullying and Harassment By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

“A Day of Silence” occurs tomorrow, April 20th.  Created in 1996, University of Virginia students wanted to raise awareness of the bullying and harassment of issues that LGBT students faced on campus.  Since then, A Day of Silence makes a statement against those who have tried to silence LGBT teens and young adults in school through harassment, bias, abuse, and bullying. Participating students, led by GLSEN, will hand out cards that read the following:

“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?”

Family Picture (wikipedi.com)

Family Picture from wikipedia.com

The issue of bullying LGBT teens resonated with the world when Tyler Clementi took his life in 2010 after his roommate secretly transmitted via webcam Tyler’s sexual encounter with someone of the same sex. Tyler’s suicide brought national attention to the issue of bullying and harassment that LGBT people face.  To my chagrin, while writing this article, another victim fell.  Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr., a 14-year-old gay teen, committed suicide because of the intolerable harassment and bullying he dealt with at school.

To really understand the magnitude of this issue, I wanted to examine the statistics surrounding bullying. The numbers are staggering. However, when adding the LGBT component to that same teen, the numbers escalate. 

For example, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that 9 out of 10 LGBT teens experience some type of harassment of school.  Two-thirds felt unsafe due to their sexual orientation and one-third felt unsafe due to their gender expression.  According to the CDC, LGBT teens in grades 7-12 are twice as likely to attempt suicide the heterosexual teens in this same grade range.  This is due, in large part, to the same issues Tyler and Kenneth faced – bullying and harassment. LGBT young adults who experienced high levels of rejection were:

•    Nearly 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression;
•    More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
•    More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
•    More than 3 times as likely to engage in unprotected sexual behaviors that put them at increased risk for HIV and other   sexually transmitted infections.

Recently, an inspirational story of 10-year-old Gerry Orz prepares a short film about his experience and reaction to being bullied.  He was harassed and bullied for being “too tall,” “having gay parents,” having a parent who is a foreigner, being too honest, being too polite, and being too Jewish.”  This video commemorates his “Day of Silence” with the message hope of promoting  tolerance, resilience, and activism.  Its odd and almost magical to think that someone so young can set a precedent and be an example to his peers and anyone else who comes into contact with him.

From Facebook

From Facebook

On the CDC’s website, tips about bullying are posted that are designed for administrators and parents.  Sometimes as parents, this can be difficult because when reaching out and contacting the school to put the administration on notice about the bullying, your child could suffer retaliation for this act. This avoids the potential for more brutal attacks and harassment for your child. Or does it?  I was both surprised and relieved when Facebook announced they are taking a proactive stance against bullying, harassment, and teen suicides.  They are also providing free individual and private one-on-one chat with a suicide prevention counselor on Facebook. This is meant to be an outlet for help.

Besides helping the Tyler’s of the world, this new feature could also be beneficial to Jonah Mowry, whose video on youtube portrays his own struggles with being bullied as a gay teen.  This video was made to convey two messages.  The first was his fears of going back to school and enduring more harassment.  The second is a means of “coming out” to his parents.

The issue of not wanting to go back to school because of the daily harassment provides a negative learning experience. Mental Health America states that LGBT teens that are subjected to bullying and/or harassment may be in danger of compromising their educational success:

•    Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse.
•    LGBT students are more apt to skip school due to the fear, threats, and property vandalism directed at them.  One survey revealed that 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe there.
•    Twenty-eight percent of gay students will drop out of school. This is more than three times the national average for heterosexual students.
•    LGBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.

Cassandra Morris http://www.mlive.com

Like any other issue that is considered to be controversial, last year’s event was marked with resistance.  According to Michael B. Keegan, this was the religious right – staunch advocate against gay rights.  Focus on the Family even armed students with “conversation cards” to talk to students about why being gay is wrong.  These cards contain “what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality.”  This year is no different.  Linda Harvey, President of Mission America urges the “rejection of sin-affirming pro-homosexuality event.”  Harvey states that this movement promotes homosexuality and gender confusion.

Using the Bible and Religion in this way is a means of terror and a form of bullying in and of itself.  Tolerance, compassion, and love should be extended to all of God’s children.  Christ reached out to everyone.  He did not discriminate. Tomorrow I will stand in solidarity with the LGBT community, in silence.  Will you join me?

More information about this day is available at http://www.dayofsilence.org/

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is interested in rhetoric, post-colonial theories and exegesis, historical memory, and the influence on the religion focusing on the subaltern, specifically in the area of liberation, genocide, and forced migration. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College.  Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://johncarroll.academia.edu/MicheleFreyhauf .  Michele can be followed on twitter @MSFreyhauf.



Categories: Activism, Bible, Christianity, college, Ethics, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Human Rights, Identity Construction, LGBTQ, Sexual Ethics, Sexual Violence

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17 replies

  1. “This year is no different. Linda Harvey, President of Mission America urges the “rejection of sin-affirming pro-homosexuality event.” Harvey states that this movement promotes homosexuality and gender confusion.”

    It’s hearbreaking to think that people claiming to be of the faith would work against such heroic efforts to love as Jesus loved.

    Like

    • Lori-Ann,

      Indeed very heartbreaking. Jesus stated that we need to 1) love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and 2) love thy neighbour as thyself. It boils down to the golden rule that so many have forgotten or just simply were never taught.

      Michele

      Like

  2. Brava!

    You don’t mention the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, whose website says “God hates fags. God hates fag-enablers. Therefore, God hates america [sic.]” These are people who should be silent! They give religion a bad name. Jesus told us to love one another.

    Like

  3. Just yesterday, a gang of boys in a car yelled threats out the car window to a 66 year old lesbian friend, who was holding hands with her female partner. Imagine having to deal with that at the age of 66? Almost all the bullying I experienced and continue to experience comes from men, and teenage boys, both groups I just want to avoid if I can. Men pose a threat to all women, lesbian and hetero. Hetero women other and ostracize lesbians all the time, and parade their hetero privilege all over the place. I’d say the entire hetero world is one big bully if you ask me.

    So good for all the students who are standing up against attacks on lesbians and gays. But I’d like to see pictures of girls here. Too male male faces make this look like male on male attacks. Girls are bullied by boys all the time, bullied for not having sex with boys, beaten up, made fun of. I vowed that I would fight back, and I have again and again and again.

    Where are the lesbian girls on this site?

    Like

    • Turtle woman,

      It is intolerable that your friend had to endure that. What I am finding out is that at the college level, there is a higher degree of acceptance, but it usually occurs through finding out a friend or a relative is LGBT (not always, but most cases). I think we, as a society, are starting to move in a forward direction on this issue, which ironically really did not become labeled or targeted until the late 18th century when the term homosexual emerged as a medical term for the first time.

      As for your query about lesbian girls, two points. As a feminist, I believe in equality for all people including gay men. I did attempt to look for pictures of lesbians who were bullied and ironically the 6 or so cases I found were teen boys. Certainly it is well publicized that girls have committed suicide due to bullying, but either the news coverage is lacking or the trend is more male oriented. This is certainly something I think calls for further investigation. If you find something, please let me know.

      Michele

      Like

    • Lesbians and women are part of bullying too. It is not JUST MEN as you claim and they are on the website and others, like the Trevor Project’s online support forum.

      Like

      • John, I did not say that women or lesbians were not bullied. What I stated is that I could not find specific cases of lesbian teens who had committed suicide, which I still think is curious. If they do exist (and unfortunately they probably do – but under the radar) I would appreciate bringing it my attention. I do want to thank you for providing me at source to look at.

        Like

  4. great blog– i’m sharing it with my class

    Like

    • Marie,

      Thank you so much, what a great compliment. I am interested in hearing feedback and how the class reacted and dialogued about this issue. If you have time, feel free to e-mail me off-list.

      Michele

      Like

  5. Teen suicide statistics and gender

    Teen suicide statistics draw a correlation between gender and suicide. It is interesting to note that there are some very clear indications that suicide is different for males and females, attempted and completed suicides alike. For example, males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females. However, teen girls are more likely than teen boys to attempt suicide. So, even though teenage girls make more attempts on their own lives than teenage boys, the boys are more likely to actually complete a suicide attempt. They do not allow for intervention, and are less likely to “call for help” through a suicide attempt, since there is often little opportunity to get males into treatment since their suicide completion rate is higher than that of females.

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  6. Just because there is no front page news about lesbian girls getting attacked all the time, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Several African American lesbians were taunted and attacked by a white man in New Jersey awhile back. They fought back, and ended up in jail, and were blamed for the entire incident. On a feminist blog, you really have to challenge constantly the “males in the news are the news 24/7” a little bit more. Gay male doesn’t equal lesbian, in fact, the two are not the same at all. Gay as normative for lesbian experience just doesn’t get at the double whammy of having boys yell out things at you from cars— something that stops for a period of time, but can come up again in the most unexpected contexts. My 66 year old lesbian friend was walking in a lesbian and gay neighborhood when she was terrorized, for example. This just happened!!!

    I am sure suicide for girls and boys takes on varying dimensions. The many women I’ve known who’ve committed suicide or who died before age 50 ( a disturbingly high number ) is really a hard one to deal with.

    No matter what, it seems there are several routes we as lesbians take. Everytime some sanctimonious straight person says “Oh things are so much better on OUR school campus” I know I’m seeing the face of denial yet again.

    Everytime I see a male face on this blog, I get angry, and I’ll tell you why— males dominate the entire news media, you can look at an entire newspaper sometimes and see only male faces in the news. You’d think on a feminist blog we would counter the erasure of lesbians everywhere or even het women by putting a face on it that says — women are central. I even hate it when men write articles on this blog, it feels like erasure too. But I am a radical feminist, and I believe you can’t placate men, you can’t use the face of gay male to represent the ugly socially demeaning things straight people do to lesbians ALL THE TIME. That is the mild form of bullying–erasure. So go google the African American lesbians in New Jersey… their faces belong here.

    Kind of a rant, but I’m going to keep saying this over and over and over again till the day I die.

    Like

  7. i really enjoyed reading your blog. it is so unfortunate that so many teens each year take their life due to bullying just because of their sexual orientation. i hope that in the future our society can become more accepting of other peoples sexual orientation and that the bullying and suicide rates due to this can decrease and eventually be eliminated.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. Solidarity with the Day of Silence | The Femonite: Musings from a Mennonite Feminist
  2. The Crime of Being a Girl Scout: The Sin of Raising Strong Female Leaders by Michele Stopera Freyhauf « Feminism and Religion

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