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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Anti-gay-discrimination laws in schools

A thread in relation to Finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’m coming out . . . (as a post-homosexualist):


> Do cats witter endlessly on about being cats? Do redheads drive us
> to distraction with their thoughts on being ginger? How many serious
> comment columns in the editorial pages of newspapers are devoted to
> the musings of straight men on what it is to be a heterosexual? No,
> they just get on with it – with being cats, redheads or straights.
> Such things are for the lifestyle sections of weekend magazines, not
> rubbing shoulders with the debate on global warming, housing or the
> terrorist threat.

So much for the historical injustice and oppression that is used to justify angst and grievances in the present.

A: If only Parris' vision were accurate with respect to all kinds of historical injustice and oppression. Unfortunately, not are all as widely discredited, and the discredit as deeply internalised, as in the context of gay rights in the specifically public political and public social arena in the particular context of Britain in 2007. And there may be a sizeble number of gay schoolchildren who might find it difficult to agree even with that.

B: Gabriel: I believe gay teenagers are still much more likely to commit suicide than straight ones.

Dying, generally, is not a good thing.

Gabriel: Men are also much more likely to commit suicide than women (3-4x).

Cock: Actually if I recall correctly, women are more likely to attempt suicide but men are more successful at ending their own lives.

In any case, get a grip. I fail to believe that the lot of the white gay teenager in britain is worse than a female kurdish teenager in britain, considering the honour killings. Problems with acceptance exist but they are much better than in the past and are improving.

B: Er... Yes, but no.

No one said it was the shittiest thing to be in Britain. I know you like coming up with spurious comparisons, but not everyone likes wasting time reading them. The fact merely is that there is still much work to be done.

Take Section 28. Yes it has been abolished. But that merely means that it is not unlawful for a teacher to 'promote' homosexuality, whatever the fuck that means, in state schools. In no way is it mandatory for a teacher to ensure that gay schoolchildren are not picked on, etc etc. Do you really think that kids in all C of E or Catholic or Muslim schools are being told by their teachers that it's ok to be gay? Sadly I don't think so.

Gabriel: What about kids who are bullied by their peers because they are fat, ugly, poor (I am told that "His father drives a Mazda" is a slur in ACJC), short, bespectacled (okay, maybe the days of being called four-eyed are past), immigrants, speak with a funny accent, unpopular, orphans, politically conservative, have orange skin and/or vegan?

Beyond a certain point, authorities cannot and should not do anything; I don't see how it is acceptable for certain causes to be privileged above others.

Cock: But in Britain, the problem of schoolteachers making unacceptably discriminatory opinions of their gay or whatever students in Britain, while still there, is less and less likely to be a problem no thanks to the tireless efforts of legislators and the courts in placing a duty of care upon school authorities not to cause psychiatric harm on their students (i.e. fear of getting sued). It is only a matter of time before religious schools are also under the new sexual discrimination regulations too.

In contrast, while I am optimistic about the end of discrimination against gay teenagers in schools pretty soon, not enough is being done to prevent women who live in cultures which practice honour killings from being maimed, killed or driven to suicide. It is far more insidious than the gay discrimination problem in Britain because much of the abuse takes place in the private life context ( i.e. not in employment, dealings with government or business).

And Gabriel, the good news ( for the human rights lawyers and the zealous human human rights campaigners that is. Okay fine, the victims too, just to stop B and C frothing at the mouth at my lack of sympathy for their real suffering. ) is that school authorities can be held sued for failing to take steps to stop bullying on all those assorted grounds you mention. There was in fact a landmark case in Australia recently where a school was made to pay compensation for laughing off bullying of one of their students by his peers.

A: I used to find it difficult to identify why responses of this nature were so dissatisfying. Some recent comments threads on feministing.com have helped me figure it out. The thing is, the conversation wasn't about men committing suicide or women committing suicide. It was a conversation about gay teenagers. Why does it have to become a conversation about whether men have it worse than women? Even if it had been a conversation about women's problems, why would it have to have become a conversation about men's comparative problems? Is it so difficult to beleive that gay people may suffer from specific problems, and that women may suffer from a different set of specific problems, AND that men may suffer from yet another set of different specific problems, without having to conflate all these conversations? Why, if I were talking about the genocide in Sudan, would it be necessary or even helpful to say "Oh well, it's not as bad as the Holocaust" (Alan Bennett's The History Boys has a great sequence on this topic) or even "But what about the Holocaust?" I mean, how ridiculous is this:

A: "Gay kids are bullied."
B: "Fuck gay kids, what about the honour killings, man!"

Well, yeah, honour killings are awful, but _they_ _are_ _another_ _topic_, and do we have some kind of problem with considering the possibility that there are different kinds of problems that different people face, which are all problematic? If we were policy makers, of course, there would be the problem of limited resources which poses a constraint on the directions to which you point certain resources to solve the problems. But we are not policy makers dealing with a budget, this is a conversation, and the amount of time we spend making the point about the COMPARISONS seems to suggest our time for having the conversations about the THINGS being compared is not so very limited. And if that's the case then surely the point of having a conversation about things is to deepen our understanding of such problems as do exist. It's not like we can each only talk about the problems that are MOST IMPORTANT at any one time.

For instance, when the issues that women (for instance) face are brought up, is it really meaningful to respond with "but men face XYZ issues too"? Why not respond with "but LOBSTERS face ABC issues as well!" So what? OK, fine, the lobsters/men have it tough, but what does it have to do with the problems women face that were brought up? Why does the fact that there are generally problematic gender relations affecting BOTH genders in bad ways mean that when one specific manifestation of this is brought up with respect to women, any other specific manifestation of this to do with men should necessarily be relevant? And if you accept that, then if turning a conversation about women into a "men v women: who has it most shit" smackdown is so meaningless, what more turning a conversation about gays into "men v women: who offs themselves more"?

Now maybe you just find the original conversation uninteresting: you don't want to talk about gay men, you want to talk about honour killings. You don't want to talk about women, you want to talk about men. Obviously, that's fine. Some people are more interested in some things than others. But then why does it seem to take the form of a comparison, a response, a refutation, rather than introducing a new topic? Clearly there is something more than mere disinterest at work here? The dynamic isn't just one of "mere" disinterest, it's almost like the problems need to be in some way dismissed. As if even the fact that other people find it important or interesting is so distasteful or problematic. Why is this the case?

Will Young responded to Matthew Parris in Saturday's Times, giving an opposing view, by the way. If anyone gives a shit about the situation gay people face to begin with, as opposed to this ridiculous "whose genocide was worst" dick-waving.

Gabriel: The point is not that "men have it bad so gays should shut up", or about scoring points to prove who is more miserable.

The point is, B says that gay teenagers are more likely to commit suicide than non-gay (presumably straight) teenagers. He says that this is evidence that there is a big problem, and that we should be more vigorous about making gay teenagers feel welcome, loved, cherished etc than catering for people with orange skin who might also similarly be laughed at, but presumably do not kill themselves at as high a rate.

The reason I made the point about the suicide rate of men is that nobody says that men are discriminated against, marginalised etc and that we should therefore revoke the Women's Charter (or whatever) so they stop killing themselves. Comparisons allow us to get a sense of perspective. For example:

A: "Gay kids are laughed at. Negative peer pressure is ruining their self-esteem. We need to make sure they are not laughed at by fining teachers who do not protect them from excoriation."
B: "Vegetarian kids are also laughed at but they turn out fine. Being laughed at for being different is part of growing up. Perhaps you are barking up the wrong tree."


> that
> nobody says that men are discriminated against, marginalised etc

My perception is that on the contrary there are many oft-discussed men's issues: for instance, boys are lagging behind girls in school, men have more addiction problems than women, men are often unfairly denied access to their children when relationships between parents sour, men are under pressure to behave in a traditionally masculine way which leads to emotional repression, men who suffer domestic or sexual abuse do not get adequate support, many men commonly lack role models in terms of father figures in their lives, men who are gay suffer more violent responses generally than women who are gay (who face a different set of problems), so on and so forth. It isn't a binary case of being "marginalised" or "not marginalised". There are different contours to the way both men and women are treated which creates different sets of problems for both. Most people who are conscious of gender issues (and granted many aren't, many are blissfully unaware or uninterested in one or both sets of problems) tend to become sensitive to both. You will probably almost never, for instance, find a conscientious feminist saying, "Yuck, that man has been raped, now he is less of a man" - that's more likely to be something a misogynist will say!

I feel that you are still taking a "men v women smackdown" attitude so that because women have traditionally received more attention as a class (having traditionally suffered more severe and more identifiable repression and had a wider array of more obviously identifiable problems) and had had to organise more self-consciously as a class (for the same reason), this means that "nobody says" men also have problems as a class or that nobody pays any attention to those problems, and therefore such statistics cannot be a useful indication of some kind of underlying social problem. This seems to me to be wrong. If there ARE problems affecting men which have been overlooked, that lead to those higher suicide rates, that is a problem that needs to be explored and rectified - that suggests a lacuna in looking at problems men face, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER WOMEN ALSO FACE DISCRIMINATION. I cannot say this enough. Women and men can BOTH be oppressed on account of their gender, IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

Thus, the statistic is not in any way a reason not to consider that gay teenagers face certain pressures that straight teenagers don't, as well. This is your chain of logic, with my summarised responses in square brackets:

(1) People don't think men are discriminated against, they only think women are discrimimated against. [But some of us do think men are discriminated against, it is not inconsistent with women being discriminated against]

(2) THEREFORE the comparative suicide rate (men v women) doesn't say anything about whether men face specific difficulties and discrimination that may require attention [But just because some or even many people don't think men are discriminated against doesn't mean they can't be]

(4) THEREFORE the comparative suicide rate (gay v straight) doesn't say anything about whether gays face specific difficulties and
discrimination that may require attention [Because surely on its own terms it suggests a problem!]

On another note, the kind of "comparison" you did in the email below is very different from the kind of "comparison" you did in the earlier email regarding suicide rates and would not, even if on its own terms helpful, redeem the point of the earlier email. Taking it on its own terms however, I am very doubtful whether very many vegetarians have been beaten up in school or even murdered for being vegetarian - or whether negative attitudes towards them have resulted in the past in imprisonment, legal restrictions on their practising vegetarianism, being stared at whenever they walk down the street with their salad wraps in hand, being ostracised from their own family, having exorcisms performed on them by their religious communities, and being denied jobs or fired from jobs. Which may be going on to a lesser extent with gays, now, as compared to in the past, but only as a result of very recent changes, which means we can expect the social attitudes of (for instance) schoolmates of gay children to probably still be influenced to some
extent by this extremely recent discrimination.

C: No seriously. When did B say "we must privilege gay rights above everything else". This is something that you cooked up yourself. And seriously, orange skinned people? Who the fuck are you talking about? WHAT the fuck are you talking about? Actually, forget that I asked. You'll just copy and paste some ludicrous Wikipedia link and go "aha! I have proven you wrong! Orange skin syndrome actually exists! I am so clever!" Which is not only irritating, but pointless.

As I have said. There are more persistent issues at hand. Gay teens still commit suicide at a higher rate than straight teens. There is no corresponding evidence for vegetarians, orange-skinned people, or martians sent to earth to pretend to be teenagers so that they can spy on our planet. Presumably because discrimination on grounds of sexual preference is still rampant, widespread and unacceptable in any situation. That is all B is saying. That is all.

In other news, perhaps you could laugh at vegetarians, but I assure you that vegetarians are not laughed at in the same way that homosexuals are. It is not, for example, said that vegetarians are perverted. It is not said that they are morally wrong. It is not said that they will never amount to anything just because they are vegetarian. You are full of shit.

D: But this could simply mean that we should be more vigorous about making vegetarians feel accepted. However, there is a reasonable case to be made that vegetarianism is a relatively less central part of vegetarians' identity compared to gayness and the identity of gays. And there is the issue of 'choosing' vegetarianism but not 'choosing' sexual orientation (this is thorny territory, but at least it has to be acknowledged this is a potentially problematic difference between the two). So discriminating against vegetarians could be considered a less severe offence than discriminating against gays.

On a broader point, I have no idea what you mean by 'sense of perspective' --- if all you mean is that we should acknowledge that these other problems exist, then well and fine --- we do, but it's hardly germane to the current conversation. If you mean that the present 'tolerance' ('part of growing up') of these other problems has any bearing on whether we should deal with gays' problems, then I disagree. Ok, we've got the perspective now, honour killings and gender discrimination are also big problems --- so what does that have to do with gays? The 'being laughed at for growing up' point can be used to get people to tolerate essentially any kind of childhood hardship. For example, it's often part of growing up that one is caned by one's parents. Does that mean we should tolerate corporeal punishment?

In other words, the 'sense of perspective' point is either irrelevant, or, if it prescribes any attitudes we should take towards gayness, relies on fallacious reasoning.


> My perception is that on the contrary there are many oft-discussed
> men's issues:

Okay you're right.

What I should have said was that much less attention is paid to the discrimination and marginalisation etc of men than that of women, gays etc, and nobody suggests privileging them with protection of the sort that women, gays etc get.

This is not just in a historical context but also a contemporary context.

>If there ARE problems affecting men... that suggests a
>lacuna in looking at problems men face, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER WOMEN
>ALSO FACE DISCRIMINATION. I cannot say this enough. Women and men
>can BOTH be oppressed on account of their gender, IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

The point of raising the comparison is not to go: "Men are oppressed, therefore women cannot be oppressed as well". I accept and acknowledge that certain groups are oppressed, but the fact is that some phenomena which are labeled as, or being due to oppression or discrimination may not be so.

The classic example is that since men make up the overwhelming majority of the prison population, this means that the justice system is structurally biased against them and that there is massive and unacceptable discrimination perpetrated against them.

This is incorrect.

The reason why men make up the bulk of the prison population is because they commit more crimes.

>I am very doubtful whether very many vegetarians have been beaten up
>in school or even murdered for being vegetarian - or whether
>negative attitudes towards them have resulted in the past in
>imprisonment, legal restrictions on their practising vegetarianism,
>being stared at whenever they walk down the street with their salad
>wraps in hand, being ostracised from their own family, having
>exorcisms performed on them by their religious communities, and
>being denied jobs or fired from jobs.

The solution is to legislate against beating gays up or murdering them etc, not to fine teachers who do not prevent them from being laughed at (or whatever it was in the first place).

Going back to the gay suicide example, there seem to be 2 questions here:

1) Is the higher gay teenager suicide rate indicative of a problem?
2) If so, should we do anything about it (eg fine teachers who do not prevent them from being laughed at)

1) Looking at simple correlations is oftem misleading. I trust that no one would look at correlations of race and IQ or school performance and then proclaim that Blacks/Malays/insert-your-favourite-marginalised-minority-here are stupider than insert-your-favourite-non-marginalised-minority-here/insert-your-favourite-majority-here. Yet this is what is being done with gay teenagers.

The higher gay teenager suicide rate may not be indicative of a problem, for a variety of reasons. One that comes to mind are that gay people, almost by definition, tend to be less conventional and more eccentric (which results in the problem for the individual of social integration above and beyon the fact of being gay).

Another interesting point to consider is suggested by this paper:

Suicidality and Sexual Orientation: Differences Between Men and Women in a General Population-Based Sample From The Netherlands

"Homosexuality has been shown to be associated with suicidality and mental disorders. It is unclear whether homosexuality is related to suicidality, independently of mental disorders... Younger homosexuals were not at lower risk for suicidality than older homosexuals in comparison with their heterosexual counterparts. Among homosexual men, perceived discrimination was associated with suicidality. This study suggests that even in a country with a comparatively tolerant climate regarding homosexuality, homosexual men were at much higher risk for suicidality than heterosexual men. This relationship could not only be attributed to their higher psychiatric morbidity."

Even in what is probably the most gay-tolerant and friendly culture in the world, homosexuals are more likely to kill themselves than heterosexuals.

If you want to tell me that homosexuals in the Netherlands nevertheless still face discrimination and are marginalised, this would be marginally plausible, but for the fact that younger homosexuals were at as high risk of suicidality as older homosexuals. Presumably with the passage of time social attitudes towards homosexuals became more tolerant, yet we see no change in suicidality. Hell, even if, grasping at straws, you want to claim that Dutch social attitudes towards homosexuals had become less tolerant, we see that sucidality had nonetheless not changed.

With regard to 2) there're practical issues as well as philosophical issues.

How do we draw the line? What would constitute a transgress against the putative (or are they already implemented) rules/laws?

Determining when someone has been assaulted is easy.
Determining when someone has been offended is not.

Of course death threats and the like should clearly be disallowed, but what about more subtle forms of 'discrimination'?

In secondary school, 'faggot' was a popular perjorative hurled at people. A gay would probably feel insulted if called a faggot. A gay could also feel offended if someone else (even if a straight person) were called a faggot, yet I'm sure one could agree that this offence is of a lower degree than the first.

But what about other examples? Is kids crowding around a laptop laughing at a Hard Gay video evidence of discrimination against gays? (For those not in the know: Hard Gay is this Jap guy who dresses up in tight black leather and does pelvic hip thrusts. In real life he is straight, so he's just pretending to be 'gay' for laughs. He has been criticised for plumbing homosexuality for laughs)

Aggrieved gay students could thus allege discrimination when it is mostly in their heads (Someone listening to "Rudolph the Deep Throat Reindeer" on their iPod) or even non-existent (eg If they hang a rubber chicken from their bags and get laughed at, they could think it's because they're gay and make a complaint).

I'm sure you can think of many more examples.

Furthermore, how is the former example different from the atmosphere of derision that surrounds short people when they are called 'shorty'? If you do not understand the structural biases in society against short people, please ask The Cock how he feels.

You could say that it is more morally wrong to make fun of gays than short people. Why this is so is hard to fathom (perhaps someone could explicate).

You could also say that the consequences of making fun of gays are worse than those of making fun of short people. Yet this is untrue; it is alarming to note that one study has found a Strong Inverse Association Between Height and Suicide. A 5cm increase in height was associated with a 9% decrease in suicide risk (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/162/7/1373). Clearly, we should fine teachers who do not stop height discrimination in school. Yet, we privilege gay issues above height issues despite the greater awareness and legal protection given to the former.

There is also potential for abuse. Allegations of homophobia could be made to ruin disliked students or teachers, especially since verbal assault is so difficult to prove. Laws protecting underaged females are already used to blackmail men; this is not to say that these laws should be repealed, only that one must remember the potential for abuse and circumscribe these laws and provide safeguards. Ditto for the anti-homophobia laws/rules that are proposed.

Perhaps fining teachers who do not prevent gay students from being laughed at is not what we were originally discussing and we have wandered somewhere out there. If so, please prod me back in the right direction. Nonetheless I hope at least some of the above points are relevant.

>The 'being laughed at for growing up' point can be used to get people
>to tolerate essentially any kind of childhood hardship. For example,
>it's often part of growing up that one is caned by one's parents. Does
>that mean we should tolerate corporeal punishment?

For the record I favor spanking but not caning.

Yet, the paranoia to protect children has resulted in some schools banning playground time (I can't remember the details).

Traditions should not be adhered to for the sake of adhering to them, but there is at least a case to be made of considering whether they can be kept. Going back to 'being laughed at for growing up', just as someone who doesn't visit Malaysia and eats clean food all the time gets diarrhea when he goes to Hangzhou (to wit, Me), so too will a child who has been sheltered from even the mildest form of derision when growing up find it hard to survive the real world.

A: I'm not sure where this discussion about fines originated. However, I don't like the idea - it's a minefield for enforcement and I don't as a general rule think that criminal liability for failure to prevent fairly open-ended behaviour perpetrated by others in the complicated social context that school constitutes is a good idea. That said, there are a number of points still open:

(1) Do gay kids face homophobic bullying/discrimination on a significant scale?

Obviously, this varies between contexts. In Singapore I cannot imagine how anyone could have got through the schools that I attended without verbal harassment or physical abuse if they were openly gay. In the UK it probably varies between regions and the type of school, but I know barely any gay people who feel they could have or did comfortably come out in school - which immediately puts them on the outside with respect to something which is a huge part of a teenager's life. It means, for instance, not being able to date, as many of their peers do; and not being able to discuss dating, as many of their peers do, without discomfort or subterfuge. It sets the stage for a sense that they live in a society where, because of prejudice, they may never realise hopes that are one of the greatest sources of joy and meaning for the vast majority of people. (It puts me in mind of the long-standing past practice of many light-skinned American blacks, adopted so they could participate fully in society, known as "passing" i.e. pretending they were white. It's impossible to describe that as anything other than evidence of racism.)

So injustices in the statute books have been redressed in Britain. This does not necessarily mean homophobia is not still severe in some contexts. Taking forcible repression out of the laws doesn't cause attitudes comprehended in those statutes (and thus bolstered by them and enshrined in other social institutions and the public consciousness) to go away immediately. It's barely been a historical blink of the eye since those laws were changed. I don't think your Dutch example is apposite - it's not like the people who victimised older gay people aren't still around, interacting with younger gay people.

Re the continuing "men v women" conversation which I don't seem to be able to make go away - there's a substantial body of opinion that regards the disproportionate incarceration of young males as the product of, amongst other things, social problems afflicting that demographic (for example, being the target of pressure to join gangs in which substance abuse, violence, risk-taking and rule-breaking are badges of masculinity). So, well, yeah, "nobody" says it's the result of problems with the way society treats/views men... except some people do.

As for the claim that gay people are somehow generally eccentric, regardless of marginalisation on account of sexual orientation, and this would lead to difficulties fitting in, accounting for the higher suicide rates. I disagree for reasons too complicated to go into at the moment, but even taking it as read, this is simply a reason to take their social difficulties even more seriously, since it would mean they were a particularly vulnerable group.

(2) Should we do anything about it?

(a) In principle, you suggest, we shouldn't do anything about milder forms of bullying, based on a "character-building" argument. The gist is kids'll fall apart as adults if sheltered, and being bullied helps them "toughen up". This seems to be based on a belief that stopping these forms of bullying is detrimental because they bring benefits (so even where the balance of harms/benefits would otherwise suggest intervention, we might nonetheless want bullying).

But is the emotional strength to deal with bullying like resistance to disease? Emotional resources are a function of emotional support as well as innate personal constitution. In general, we expect people from supportive families, with sympathetic circles of friends and in positive school environments to develop more self-respect and be more emotionally resilient and better at dealing with unpleasant behaviour as adults than those without these advantages. It is not clear to me that someone love and encouragement throughout childhood is less well equipped to deal with emotional hardship in future than someone who is bullied, scorned and abused. The oft-cited correlation between victimisation in youth and abusive behaviour towards others in adulthood seems apposite.

Obviously, people can be given support even if the bullying is not prevented or addressed as such. They can be loved at home while bullied at school, or treated with respect by teachers even if scorned by peers. But one important form of validation is having other people stand up to those who are doing wrong to you and say "We do not accept this." People who feel that there is no place for them in their community, because their suffering is not regarded by others as a problem, are going to have difficulty becoming emotionally "strong" in a socially integrated way (which brings about other problems for the rest of us, who have to live with them).

And even if we did our best to address bullying, given other practical constraints, some of it would still be there. So even if we accept that using childrens' avoidable suffering to create Emotionally Resilient Adult Ubermensch is okay, this isn't much of an argument for inaction.

(b) Your second argument for not doing anything is based on the idea that dealing with homophobic bullying specifically unfairly "privileges" gay students over others who are bullied. I don't really follow. Consider the following, greatly simplified for illustrative purposes:

Case #1 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are bullied.
Case #2 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are not bullied.
Case #3 - Neither short kids nor gay kids are bullied.

Presumably Case #2, where there is less bullying than previously, is preferable to Case #1, though Case #3 is preferable to both. (I'm confused about why I'm even having to say this.) And in the case of the UK at least the political movement against homophobic bullying is part of a movement against bullying in general, which condemns all forms of bullying including on grounds of personal appearance, while recognising that homophobic bullying is especially prevalent, brings its own nuanced set of specific problems, and is often overlooked by schools uneasy about tackling a sensitive topic.

I wonder if your objection is still based on a curious idea that talking about bullying based on gayness is somehow excluding conversations about bullying based on height - i.e. we're back to wholly irrelevant items for the sake of 'fairness'. If you want to have a conversation about short people, I think I'm qualified to participate! - but, again, it's a different conversation.

(3) OK, so what can we usefully do about it?

Depends on who you are. Parents can encourage children to be sensitive to the feelings of bullied gay children and teach them to refuse to participate (or even tell their friends off) when their friends engage in bullying. Similarly if you are an older sibling, a cousin, an uncle or aunt, or any other relative or friend. As an individual (especially a teacher) who notices what's going on you can take the time and effort to draw out a victimised child (or a bully) and act as a supportive/influential figure in his or her life.

Individual teachers can do even more: gay issues can be touched upon, however briefly, in existing class discussions to do with equality (e.g. historical lessons on the Holocaust) to make students aware of parallels. The occasional hypothetical example can feature a gay couple. The sexual orientation of historical, literary or political figures can be remarked upon without adverse comment where relevant. (And obviously if you are a parent or a friend you can do all of these when simply having conversations.)

Institutional measures - even if there are instances where bullying is not obvious, there are many instances where it is. Schools can formulate policies requiring teachers to reprimand and report instances of unambiguously homophobic language (I think "faggot" qualifies without difficulty), or jeering at someone for real or putative homosexuality, which create a stifling environment for gay people even if directed at straight kids (and obviously impairs the quality of life of straight victims). It can be mandatory to address the homophobic element of physical bullying, where that occurs. They can discipline staff who set bad examples (one can imagine, for instance, a sports coach egging a team on in a homophobic way). They can hold training sessions to make gay issues more accessible to staff and answer misgivings. Perpetrators can be required to go for counselling. Homosexuality can be included in a factual, informative way in the sex education syllabus. Regular meetings can be held in which bullying is discussed and each teacher can make others aware of problem cases so they can be more attuned to what's going on with their students.

Re allegations being made up, obviously that's possible with any kind of verbal abuse. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be mechanisms of redress. Presumably, notwithstanding this risk, we still want schools to have disciplinary procedures or responses of some kind in place where a teacher verbally sexually harasses a student, or a group of students chant racist abuse at a classmate. I don't see that this is different (and I understand you agree).

I'm sure you can come up with more ideas - but I want to illustrate that it is not pointless to think about or discuss the ways in which gays face discrimination, even in a relatively enlightened society like Britain, because there are plenty of things we can do in different capacities to contribute to reducing it.

Gabriel: I agree with most of what you said, and don't really feel like flogging this dead horse further, so unless someone has something new/novel/interesting to add I shan't continue this thread.

C: A, I admire your pluck and sheer blind optimism at casting your numerous pearls before this swine. It seems as if these days you are the only person who can stare stupidity in the face and not say "ok, I give up, you can keep on being a dumbass, dumbass."

B: Again, yes, but no. This reminds of the Patrick Mercer incident in the UK recently. Basically, some Tory shadow minister who was once a Major in the British Army was interviewed about the setting up of what was in all but name a union among UK military personnel in order to tackle issues of racism. Patrick Mercer is a man much like Gabriel Seah in this respect. His line was 'oh many people feign racist attacks but actually they are just trying to excuse their poor performance, etc'. That may be so, but this applies to everything. Saying so is neither helpful nor insightful. For example, many people turn in fake MCs to get extra leave. In no sense is this phenomenon an argument for ignoring the plight of the genuinely ill, etc. In any case, such things usually have a natural constraint in the 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome: if you constantly take MCs or if you constantly say 'I am being attacked because I am of X race', without basis for those claims, or at least without apparent basis, then your credibility (and I mean your *individual* credibility) will take a beating, and with good reason. Patrick Mercer went on to construct an utterly false and idiotic moral equivalence between racism and other types of bullying or teasing. That is, he acknowledged that it was common in the British Army to call black soldiers 'you black bastard'. But, as if this was in any conceivable sense an excuse for racist language, he went on to explain that 'oh but some people who have ginger hair get bullied too, sometimes more badly -- we hear taunts on the assault course like "come on, you ginger bastard" or "come on, you fat bastard" so in fact it is not simply on the basis of race that people are singled out for abuse'. This was a shockingly stupid thing to say and Mercer was (rightly) called on to resign his shadow ministerial position. Firstly, surely the right attitude to take in this situation is to say that all such taunts should be avoided. Secondly, there is NO moral equivalence between attacking someone for his race and attacking someone for his hair colour or weight. The former is a constitutive part of many people's identity, and in any case is utterly immutable, the latter two much less integral to personal identity and self-respect. Similarly, there is NO moral equivalence between kids in school who are bullied for their sexual orientation and kids who are bullied for being vegetarian. This point is fairly obvious. If I say 'I hate blacks' this is completely different morally from 'I hate vegetarianism'. Obviously. Lastly, at no point did I say that I PERSONALLY experienced discrimination in Britain stemming from my sexuality. Indeed in Singapore, apart from obviously the legal discrimination which is blindingly obvious, I experienced very little. But a lot of gay teens who commit suicide etc etc are probably more tormented than I was, especially by being consumed with self-doubt, etc. I'm not saying "oh my God you do not feel my pain", I am saying "there is much work to be done". And there is. Matthew Parris made the mistake of thinking that every gay man is Matthew Parris -- affluent, well-educated, and moving in progressive circles (for a Tory, at any rate). Sadly, this is not the case. I am in general also getting rather weary of these 'I hate political correctness' diatribes by Gabriel. They have been neither interesting nor illuminating, which is surprising since contrarian positions are usually entertaining in some way. Gabriel has made his point that most of the people who suffer prejudice in the world are merely perpetuating a culture of victimhood. You may agree or disagree -- and clearly I disagree -- with this point, but it is literally only ONE very uninteresting point, which has been laboured many times already. Give it a rest.

>Obviously, this varies between contexts. In Singapore I cannot imagine how anyone
>could have got through the schools that I attended without verbal harassment or
>physical abuse if they were openly gay

Apropos the Singapore/Britain comparison: Raffles Junior College, Singapore was less homophobic than Christ Church, Oxford, and by a significant margin. So this doesn't alway hold true.

Gabriel: Somebody asked me to add the following remarks:

"someone should bring u pthe point that there IS a moral equivalence between teasing someone for being gay and teasing them for being fat

so B is in effect saying it is ok to tease someone fo being fat butnot for being gay

woot. i get it now.

clearly i am not subtle enough either.

fat people go into bouts of depression because of societal prejudice against their weight. and kill themselves. and do strange things. it's clinically documented!

teasing/making fun of people ont eh basis of them being the "other" is equally unaccceptable in all situations

it is indeed rather presumptuous to assume that it's marginally more acceptable to tease someone for being fat than for being gay"

B: No. (Obviously.) That is all.

D: While I do not condone teasing people for being fat, I don't think
it's obvious that there's a moral equivalence. One condition is more
avoidable (through free will) than the other. One is more central to a
person's identity than the other.

E: I disagree. Bringing the idea of free will into discussion treads a dangerous line. One might, for the purposes of example, pose the argument that gay people have the free will not to engage in active homosexual relationships. And while the scientific evidence is not definitive, there is ample proof to suggest that free will (or lack thereof) is hardly the only explanation for obesity, childhood or otherwise.

Anyway, posing such faux-equivalences are kind of besides the point. Any form of bullying so extreme that it results in emotional scarring/psychological trauma should be treated with equal severity, regardless of the original motivation. That is all. I don't see the need to hold one form of "otherness" over another, in this context.


>I don't think your Dutch example is apposite - it's not like the
>people who victimised older gay people aren't still around,
>interacting with younger gay people.

I remember I said I wasn't going to comment on this, and you're on holiday now, but I thought it important to explain this bit.

Many of the people who victimised older gay people in the past have now died. The population has since seen an influx of younger people who are almost certainly more progressive.

Also, state policies on homosexuals and cultural attitudes have surely changed over time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_rights_in_the_Netherlands). Most notably the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2001.

Frankly, it's ludicrous to claim this example is not apposite. Discrimination is not a binary aye/nay thing, but rather a wide spectrum which can range from lynching on one end to cries of "faggot" muttered sotto voce near the middle to refusing to marry 2 same-sex partners in your religious institution if your denomination opposes
same-sex marriage near the other and imprisoning Jerry Falwell for 20 years for saying Tinky Winky is gay since he carries a handbad, since as we all know this is advocating the lynching of homosexuals.

> Case #1 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are bullied.
> Case #2 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are not bullied.
> Case #3 - Neither short kids nor gay kids are bullied.
> Presumably Case #2, where there is less bullying than previously, is
> preferable to Case #1, though Case #3 is preferable to both. (I'm
> confused about why I'm even having to say this.)

Hell, since I'm at it (and maybe also because you're on holiday and won't reply to me, hee hee): the point is that we don't see short kids as being "bullied" (MFTTW scolds me for being too subtle), so the vastly different standards some have for the bullying of homosexual kids are puzzling. Many forms of social disapproval are not serious enough (this is why telling someone "You smell, your body odour is
quite bad, please use deodorant" is not considered a hate crime even though the person can't help smelling, was born with genes giving him sweaty armpits or whatever etc).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it would be best to acknowledge discrimination, but also to stress that a victim mentality doesn't help either.

It's a balancing act, and it looks difficult to pull off. But i don't think there are simple solutions to complex problems.

June 15, 2009 12:24 am  

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