Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Leadership Vacuum and "Trickle Down" violence against GLBT people

I'm noticing that more commentators are starting to explore the connection between anti-equality rhetoric in the political sphere and the notable cases of GLBT youth suicides due to bullying.

Take this passage from a post at Americablog by Gabriel Arana:

"The real charge is that anti-gay rhetoric in politics has a trickle-down effect that reinforces the type of anti-gay attitudes that make life tough for gay teens. The connection between the work of the National Organization for Marriage and the culture of homophobia that prevails in schools is much less direct, but it exists."

In other words, the aim of anti-equality rhetoric in politics is directly to impede law and policy that would advance civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; it is not to promote physical violence against us. But physical violence against our community exists and it is worthy of asking whether anti-equality rhetoric in politics is one cause.

So let's look at the situation in Tennessee.

*Vonore, TN fire: I'm not aware of any high-ranking elected official in Tennessee who either uttered words of comfort to Stutte family who recently lost their home to anti-gay arson or made any public condemnation of this violent act. As far as I know, the last time any public official condemned violence that involved our community was when Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam made these remarks about the shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church:

"It is often easy to make these tragic events, which are far too frequent, about the community in which they occur. Knoxville is a caring, compassionate city where diverse viewpoints are shared and respected. Every person, regardless of race, religion, age, sex, or sexual orientation is a person of human dignity and a valued member of our community."

He was prompted to do that, but at least he did it. Others condemned the shooting, but didn't mention our community.

*Lack of positive discourse: Apart from some members of the Memphis City Council, the Shelby County Commission, members of the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County, a few state legislators and local school board members, you won't find many elected officials having anything positive to say about legislation that promotes equality in our state. With the exception of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, you won't find anyone in the executive branch of government who is openly supportive.

Instead what you're more likely to find are remarks like these from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:

“Tennessee has a direct interest in the outcome of this case,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “If upheld, it will be used to allow same-sex marriage in Tennessee. Over 80% of Tennessee voters chose to define marriage in our constitution as the union of one man and one woman. Tennessee has an important interest in protecting the ability of our state to define marriage and I strongly urge Attorney General Cooper to join other states fighting for that same right.”

I'd say that Tennessee GLBT and questioning youth are at particular risk because most of the public discussion they hear about themselves from leaders in their communities is of a very similar negative variety. It means their straight peers are absorbing it with the idea that there's something wrong with the GLBT kids. That's a short leap to bullying. We need more community and political leaders to speak out in specific ways for our state's GLBT community.

With particular attention to the Don't Say Gay bill: I shouldn't have to mention it, but I'm going to because it bears most directly upon the issue of bullying GLBT youth--Rep. Stacey Campfield's Don't Say Gay bill. Do I think Rep. Campfield wants youth to take their lives or to be bullied? No, I don't. But I do think his ideology about sexuality and gender makes him utterly and dangerously oblivous to the situation youth find themselves in. And it blinds him to the need for specific protections against the violence they face as well as the specific affirmation they need to overcome the despair that can drive them to take their lives.

Watch these videos again and reflect upon them in light of the youth who have taken their lives. Do I have to hit you over the head with the question: "How long are we going to tolerate legislation like this? When are we going to put this awful bill out of its misery and move on to take positive steps to address bullying and its very specific victims?"

-Chris Sanders

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