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Anti-Bullying Programs Under Fire

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: As we all know, in recent weeks there has been a spate of suicides by teenagers who were bullied for being gay, or for being suspected of being gay. In the wake of these tragic deaths, many schools and youth groups are rushing to create programs aimed at helping teens recognize and fight back against bullying and exclusionary behavior. Among the higher-profile efforts are "It Gets Better," a Web-based project (soon to become a book) spearheaded by gay writer Dan Savage and his husband.

Anti Bullying Program under fire
And then there's "Bullied," a documentary produced by Teaching Tolerance, the educational wing of the Southern Poverty Law Center. It follows the court battle one bullied gay teen waged against a school district that failed to protect him. The film is accompanied by a teaching guide and is intended to be used in schools to help teachers, students and administrators begin to talk about the problem. 

Who could argue with the idea that adults, if we do nothing else, should help teenagers rise above the damaging and even dangerous effects of such bigotry and hate? Shockingly enough, though, some people do argue against it -- specifically, the group Focus on the Family. This group has suggested that programs aimed at anti-gay bullying are themselves "intolerant" of Christians, and represent an effort not to protect children, but to promote a "gay agenda." 

To this group, civil rights for all equals (somehow) an attack on them. I guess they feel attacked when they can no longer demean gay people as abnormal. They've even launched a website,, in which they argue that when schools acknowledge the equal rights of gay students, it somehow pushes straight kids toward a gay identity. When I read that they think kids should be protected from being pushed "into prematurely embracing a sexual identity based on the demands of special-interest groups," I wanted to ask them, "Don't you realize that this is what has always happened to gay kids -- only you're the special-interest group?"

I'm no theologian, but it seems to me that if you think your religious liberty and civil rights depend on suppressing the rights of others, maybe it's time to rethink your mission. Me, I like the spiritual sentiments expressed by the blogger at Momastery, who argues that even the word "tolerance" is problematic. In a post entitled "A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On," she writes (in a letter to her son, Chase): 

"If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated .... Every person is Divine."

next: The Idea of Planning Ahead Tortures Me
52 comments so far | Post a comment now
Maureen  November 4, 2010, 7:48 AM

Hi Kate,
Great post, and thanks for mentioning our film, Bullied.
As the director of Teaching Tolerance, I have to come to the defense of the word “tolerance.” It’s good to remember there are two nouns, toleration and tolerance. They have different connotations. Toleration is “putting up with.” Tolerance is broader, and encourages both acceptance and celebration. We refer often to the UNESCO definition: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s
cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.”

ss November 4, 2010, 9:56 AM

It never ceases to amaze me that people think kids can catch “the gay” like it’s a virus. For anyone to think that promoting tolerance somehow converts straight kids to being gay is laughable. I love that people are taking a stand against bullying and coming forward with their own stories. I know that it will get better with time. I just hope we don’t lose any more kids in the meantime.

Anonymous November 6, 2010, 3:34 PM

“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” - Voltaire.

Some people find man on man sex sickening, just as some people find bondage or spanking sex sickening. They have a right to their opinion and they have a right to voice it. If they didn’t and if they couldn’t then some people might find themselves pressurised into sexual acts they didn’t want to do and, all the time it was happening, think to themselves ‘this is normal’. It’s what gay people thought when pressurised into heterosexual marriages and, today, I’m sure it’s what some other people think when they find themselves into a situation they’ve been forced into. Show some sympathy, grow up a little, and recognise that fee speech in ALL areas is valuable.

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