Monday, December 13, 2010

Stuart Biegel on Bullying of Gay Youth: An Ongoing Problem

At Salon today, Thomas Rogers interviews Stuart Biegel about his new book The Right to Be Out, which finds that anti-gay prejudice is pervasive in American schools, gay youth are punished more severely than straight ones for the same infractions, and gay students reporting harassment still frequently receive no hearing when they appeal to school authorities about their bullying.  Biegel notes that, though things may have improved for gay youngsters in some parts of the country, this is not the case in other parts of the nation, and articles in high-profile publications like the New York Times which imply that harassment of gay students is a thing of the past do a disservice, in hiding the ongoing bullying in places like the Midwest and the South.

As Biegel notes, it might even be correct to say that there has been a backlash in some parts of the nation to the emergence of gay folks in our culture, and to advances in gay rights.  And that backlash, which may well be making it worse rather than better for gay youth in some areas, focuses on the schools, since they are an historic battleground for shifting cultural issues in our society.

I agree with Biegel.  I, too, find it frustrating when either gay commentators or the mainstream media treat the nation as a whole as an extension of the elite intellectual centers of the coastal parts of the country--implying that what happens in New York or San Francisco is somehow a mirror of what happens in the nation at large.  

In the past year, a Yale-educated Catholic theologian told me on a Catholic blog that she can't imagine there's any problem with the Catholic church and gay folks, since all the parishes she attends in her Northeastern community are full of gays.  That judgment--if my parish is full of openly gay folks, then all parishes everywhere must be full of gay folks--illustrates the problem of projection (and flat ignorance) I'm trying to get at here.  What happens in, say, New Haven or Brookline is not necessarily what's going on in Peoria, Box Butte, or Paragould.

And yet schools in even those cities and towns in the heartland also have gay youngsters attending them.  And those gay youth deserve as much understanding and support as gay young people anyplace in the world.  And they're not likely to get it if the intellectual and media elites of the nation declare by fiat that the problem of bullying of gay youths no longer exists in American schools, simply because it's been resolved in more enlightened parts of the country.

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