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Adrienne Parks Headshot

Bullying: Historically, It's Everywhere, Not Just in a Post-DADT World

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Power corrupts, or at least has the potential to corrupt. And that's what bullying is -- power run amok, unchecked, from cave man to the British colonization of third-world nations, Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor, "whites-only" drinking fountains, America's intervention in the Vietnam conflict, corporate employers who encourage cheap agricultural labor and break unions, terrorists of every kind brutally inflicting their hysterical mores on hapless others, to Wall Street's unbridled greed and corruption unchecked by cronyism and a "Gordon-Gecko"-like striving to make it rich at any cost.

For those who have not yet figured it out for themselves, bullying is not new. It existed long before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And I was there.

Only the technological manner of delivery is new: the Internet, social media sites, the cellphone, and the wealth of technology that continues to explode on the daily scene. And I'm here, too.

When kids of my generation grew up, it was name-calling or that nasty little clique that passed notes behind your back, a tenured university professor announcing on the first day of business class that "no woman receives higher than a D grade, so you might as well drop my class now." Or in 1970 I suggested to one of my Master's professors that British author Virginia Woolf was gay. Her jaw dropped. So did my grade. Many university scholarships were closed by gender. The full-bank rolls went to male athletes, and those males headed for the professions. The Classifieds separated jobs by gender, funneling women into the steno pool, waitressing or the cosmetics counter, men into high-paying science, engineering, sports and media.

Today who can fathom that the gender of the voice of a news anchor made the hearing of the 6 o'clock news more or less effective? Or that a woman's performance of the same job as a man would be paid much less? Or that in America African Americans were often denied equal education, employment and voting opportunities?

Is it that bullying is more pervasive or that we're not teaching survival tactics early enough for those singled-out children, teens, friends, work associates and ourselves to understand what is necessary to counter these daily skirmishes and defend ourselves with appropriate, legal and effective counter-attacks? Why do we find ourselves in a society that passes responsibility for the survival of bullying to teachers, advocates, peers, co-workers and the like instead of going at the core issue head-on? Why have gay organizations long had to be slipped into related persecuted categories or establish their own defence groups? Why did it take until 1973 for the American Psychiatric Association to declare homosexuality no longer a "disease"? I was there.

From where I sit, bullying is intrinsic. It's genetically wired into every living thing to conquer another, amass power, wealth by any means. From the cradle, kindergarten and middle school to the military, corporate America, small business, Wall Street, sports, religion and politics to the grave, each of us must be independently vigilant to stop bullying where potentially it starts -- in each of us.

It pervades our society like a cancer because it is us. We are the bullying. We define who gets "picked on." The GOP's successful business management machine (a.k.a. "tactics") is phenomenal. The Tea Party's conservatism is nothing more than Halloween drape for bullying. These rightists learn it at the knee, private hate institutions and corporate-benefactored business schools, which are self-perpetuating. Their curricula typically are devoid of ethics and social responsibility classes despite some higher institutions mandating ethics classes. However, are they not too late?

So what do we end up with? Society gone awry. A free-for-all as to who gets a job, a state or federal contract, elected to political office. Why? Bullying. The same reason that gay men and women were picked on in the military.

So how to do we even begin to get a handle on the proliferation of societal bullying, gay, straight or otherwise?

First we have to recognize it. Florida moving up its GOP primary is bullying. Texas-brand redistricting, stacking the Supreme Court, allowing church messages to merge with political rhetoric, running for elected office on one platform then using it as a bully pulpit to dole out favors to special PAC interests is bullying. Declaring a corporation a "person" is bullying. Cherry-picking lobbyists who represent globally irresponsible defense contractors for no-bid, unending contracts is bullying. How about changing election qualification rules mid-stream so the old, the frail and the college-aged who don't own cars cannot make it to a polling place, or, shutting down voter registration on the last Sunday before an election when transportation might otherwise be available. Stationing unmarked police cars outside gay bars to write down tags and identify gays for blackmail or extortion? Planting undercover FBI agents in anti-war protests to build a file on potential troublemakers? Talk in the 1980s of imprisoning those infected with AIDS? Making HIV tests mandatory for pre-employment health care screenings?

How is a 6-year-old to learn when bullying is promulgated, strutted, lauded, touted and meted out as some sort of "higher power" given only to the morally righteous as if their due?

Like many Boomers, I spent my youth opposing America's involvement in Vietnam. That was in opposition of having a prolonged "conflict" carried on in the name of the United States without approval by the majority of people who actually cared. Many of us actively supported the women's movement against the paternalist and often misogynistic power grabs made over the centuries. The gay movement: we sold "gay" cupcakes outside our university's student unions to raise funds for the "Student Homophile Association" (the only name the University would recognize). We spoke on panels, marched in the first Gay Pride parades, appeared on the first nationally syndicated TV shows depicting wholesome, well-dressed gay people.

Bullying should be stamped out at home, during the formative years. But that's exactly when our youth are watching their role models like peers, parents, teachers, coaches, media celebrities and the like in action.

Bullies create rules that support their points of superiority. Without ethics and positive role models, our society will go the way of all anarchies. The strong will survive; the old, the frail, the gay, the whoever-is-targeted will falter. It seems unnecessary to restate the obvious: bullying starts at home. Ethics might give our civilization another chance, maybe, if they're taught from infancy and schooling on. I hope it's not too late for those already studying business, law, human resources management, health care, corporate accounting, hedge fund management and politics. It's possible that decent non-bulliers may have to wait out an entire generation of bullies.

To be gracious, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" sought to stop human bullying. It just didn't account for their hardiness or determination. Nor ours. So now we all know how "DADT" was hijacked to continue to oppress, discharge and dishonor. We know that political parties win or lose based on how cogent a bullying case they make for picking targets. Will the upcoming 2012 presidential election be derailed by bullying? We'll see how many non-bulling Americans vote on their state and presidential elections. If the proof is in the polling, perhaps we can get a jumpstart on it. Stop bullying in our lifetime.