Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dehumanizing ...

Over at No Apologies, we find one of the usual suspects wringing their hands over how a gay teen's suicide is going to be "used against" christianists.

... If the storyline is correct, however, we must assume that Tyler killed himself out of shame over his lifestyle and behaviour. If this is the case, he will – courtesy of the media – be forever remembered as the gay kid who killed himself after a video of the embarrassing act became public. The victimization of Tyler Clementi and the Christian community has only begun. Tyler’s choice has been warped into a weapon and planted in the hands of those the media likes to tarnish with the sobriquet “homophobe”.

Yes, someone who commits suicide makes a choice. No question about it. But to claim that such a choice occurs in a vacuum is an attempt at dissociation - especially coming from the denizens of "No Apologies".

Here's why. GLBT youth suicides are more often than not a result of continuous harassment at the hands of others. Often their tormentors are other youth, but not always - it's not unusual for GLBT folk (youth and adult) to be harassed by adults as well.

One might want to begin by asking just where youth get the idea that it's acceptable to be abusive of GLBT people in the first place? Much less how they justify carrying such behaviours forward into their adult lives.

The short answer is that there is a very vocal, if marginal, population that is vehemently opposed to GLBT people having any rights at all in society. Whether you look at postings on No Apologies, Lifesite News, One News Now or the frothing insanity of Peter LaBarbera's Americans For Truth Against Homosexuality (AKA "AFTAH"), there are lots of sources spewing a constant message that GLBT people don't deserve to be equals in society.

The messages themselves are nothing new - it's the usual moralizing drivel derived from a flawed understanding of scripture; accusation of mental or physical illness, licentiousness and so on.

However, when these messages are out in the public sphere for all to see, it doesn't exactly take a lot to understand that youth pick up on the underlying themes and act out on them. Youth, in general, will tend to act out in a much more visceral manner than adults will for a variety of reasons.

Combine this with the fact that teenagers will generally torment the hell out of anyone who is different - visibly or behaviourally, and you have an unsurprising reality that GLBT people end up on the receiving end of some pretty vicious bullying.

Whether we are talking about the events around Tyler Clementi's suicide, Chloe Lacey, Stacy Lee or Angie Zapata it doesn't matter. All of these cases have their roots in a constant message that being GLBT is "wrong", and therefore these people are disposable.

So, where does this leave the hard-line christianists that continue to perpetuate a hostile message in society? With a shared responsibility. Individually, none of them can be held directly responsible in these situations. However, they have an indirect responsibility because it is their teachings which contribute to the atmosphere that allows for bullying and violence to be done to GLBT people in the first place.

Borrowing from a propaganda tactic that the Nazis perfected in the lead-up to WWII, the language used is designed to render an entire population of people as "the Other" - removing from them any vestiges of being human. Replacing individual humanity with a shared "evilness" makes it very easy to justify mistreating individuals.

GLBT people have an immense struggle to come to terms with themselves simply because their sexual and gender identities fall outside the normative status that the majority fall into naturally. When we combine this with a social environment where harassment is encouraged (sometimes tacitly, sometimes explicitly), it is no real surprise that some give up hope entirely and take their own lives.

While we cannot hold the christianists wholly responsible in these tragedies, like the bystander in a beating who cheers on the thugs, they hold a certain degree of culpability. Theirs is the repeated message of hostility and dehumanization aimed at GLBT people, and the implications and impact of those messages cannot be overlooked.

Note: I use the term "christianist" not as a broad reference to all who profess to be Christian, but as an explicit reference to those whose persistent distortion and misrepresentation of others is used as a political argument for denying legitimate rights, freedoms and protections in law for people.

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