Abandoning bullying victims is cowardly, not conservative
The Holy Post, 13 December 2011
The Holy Post, 13 December 2011
The October 14 suicide by Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old gay high-school student from Ottawa, has intensified public pressure on schools to protect LGBT students from bullying. In response, the Ontario government will require all state-financed schools to offer extra-curricular clubs to support gay teenagers as part of the province’s new anti-bullying legislation. This includes schools under the jurisdiction of Ontario’s Catholic school boards, which have been reluctant to offer such support programs due to the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition of homosexuality.
The new directive has been criticized by several faith groups that disagree with state imposition of gay-straight alliances in Ontario schools. In an interview with CBC Radio’s As It Happens, the bombastic, conservative evangelist Charles McVety characterized the initiative as a violation of religious freedom and an affront to the separation of church and state. Despite several prompts from host Helen Mann, he avoided acknowledging that the bullying of gay children was a specific issue, preferring to speak of bullying as a general problem that does not require the creation of such clubs. More significantly, McVety claimed that gay-straight alliances have nothing to do with preventing bullying and are instead a radical and untried social experiment.
McVety is wrong on all counts, but most seriously on the point about church/state separation. Much to my chagrin, Canada does not have a constitutional separation of religion and government, which differentiates it from the United States. However, the concept of political secularism and government neutrality in religious matters is an understood fundamental of Canadian political culture. Nevertheless, the provincial government is not telling the Catholic Church what to do, but is rather instructing the schools for which it is financially responsible and publicly accountable. If there is any abuse of secularism here, it is that the religious schools of one faith group are being funded by the state in the first place.
McVety’s point about the concealed intentions of gay-straight alliances is equally fatuous. Such groups are not created for the promotion of homosexual activity but instead as a safe place for students to go with people whom they can trust. Although young people are bullied for many reasons, children who are gay or perceived to be gay are especially targeted for harassment and intimidation. The result of this bullying is a high rate of depression among the victims, with about a third of gay teens attempting suicide at least once.
It is especially important that gay teens have access to counseling and support at school because it is often the only place where this is possible. While children who are bullied due to their family or religious background can go home to the support of their parents and communities, many gay teens actually fear their parents, especially if they have been raised in a religious household and risk being made homeless. The group environment of gay-straight alliances serves as an ideal means of supporting victims because it reinforces the notion that gay students are not alone and that not every person is out to get them.
Any honest supporter of gay rights is forced to accept that a significant number of Canadians continue to believe that same-sex relationships are not a legitimate or respectable form of love, and that an even greater number oppose the legal recognition of such relationships by the state. Therefore, this remains an issue that we must continue to debate in the public square, but not on the backs of innocent teenagers, who are often unable to deal with their own circumstances, let alone those of a fiery ethical dilemma.
We are quite often reminded that the Christian attitude toward homosexuality is to condemn sexual acts between persons of the same gender while loving the sinners for whom they are. Revolting a piece of casuistry as this is, we ought to hold Christians to their word when they claim to love everyone unconditionally. I would venture to guess that most gay teenagers in middle school and high school are not engaging in homosexual activity, and even if they were, this would not be the reason for which they are picked on.
Gay teens are harassed because they often look and act differently than their peers and have feelings that they do not choose. Many are subjected to violence and intimidation even before they understand what homosexuality means, let alone that they may themselves be gay.
Bullying is a man-made problem with a man-made solution: austere penalties and public embarrassment for the offenders, and uncompromising support for the victims. All that is required is a bit of courage and honesty from school officials and the general population. Choosing to abandon bullied children is not a conservative position, but rather a cowardly and philistine one. Charles McVety can continue to be contemptuous of gay victims of bullying, whose suffering he neither understands nor appreciates, but as long as the public shares responsibility for the upbringing and education of children, we have a duty to ensure that everyone can attend school in a safe and secure environment.
|Jackson Doughart||jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com|