Friday night I attended the GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) fifth annual RESPECT awards. Their mission statement means GLSEN is in the schools educating teachers, principals, parents, and students respect for diversity. Since 1990 GLSEN has helped schools and students set up "Safe Zones" where bullied children can go to find quiet from a storm and help from an adult. GLSEN is in our schools because children are bullying children to death.
I remember Butch the bully on the Little Rascals. He'd pick on Spanky and the other kids about this and that, but mostly he harassed Alafalfa because they were both competing for the affections of sweet, feminine Darla. Usually the schoolyard would break out in mayhem then pies would be thrown -- by the film's end it was just rough fun -- that was bullying. From my (old-fashioned) definition of the word, "bullying" isn't what GLSEN combats. For a child who doesn't fit into the mold, GLSEN is battling cold-blooded hate of children against children -- and it is rampant. Time and time again, that hate is against children who are perceived as homosexual.
From GLSEN's website:
GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes in creating a more vibrant and diverse community. We welcome as members any and all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or occupation, who are committed to seeing this philosophy realized in K-12 schools.
Saturday night I heard first hand from young people who were harassed mercilessly and the story of a few who were driven to suicide. HBO/Michael Lombardo, writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, and David Bohnett were each being honored for their commitment to GLSEN's work. I was glad to lend my support because without GLSEN hate will destroy more and more young children's lives -- no matter which side they're on.
American society views children as angelic, but the church and rhetoric from the right, has turned many of America's most innocent into hateful demons. Eight years of an evangelical President, and another year lacking leadership for the LGBT community has left GLSEN writing condolence letters to parents whose children have committed suicide to escape the hate bleeding from the church and The White House.
GLSEN is a sad necessity, but the great news is they are gaining ground in the fight for rights for all children.
For the root cause of the problem, the night's honoree David C. Bohnett said it best in his remarks:
And as we see most often, it is the evangelical and fundamentalist groups that teach homosexuality is a sin, who stand in the way of fairness and equality.
It's time to combat head-on the religious organizations that are funding the opposition to marriage equality and safe school legislation.
Among our greatest adversaries who actively work against us are the leaders of the Catholic, Mormon, and evangelical churches who seek to deny equal protection for us and for our children.
The bible is all too often used as a weapon against us, quoted and misquoted by those who seek to deny us freedom and equality. There are many causes of bullying, and the children taught at an early age that the bible condemns homosexuality may become the school bullies, then later the adults who vote to deny marriage equality and civil equality for our families and children. And the cycle continues.
Last weekend's Equality March on Washington underscores the ongoing persecution against homosexuals. The Hate Crimes Bill finally moved through The House attached to a defense provision. Equality is as sluggish as molasses -- forty years after Stonewall, and eleven years after the murder of Matthew Shepard. America's last sanctioned hate is being fought by a nonprofit in our public schools, and taught by the church on Sunday.
In one of my favorite films, 1932's RAIN, Joan Crawford discovers the hypocrisy and hate in the church and tells it to go to hell. If you were to talk to any of children persecuted by hateful rhetoric, they would tell you that that's just where the church came from.