by Kevin Hague
Today is the day for “wearing purple to stand up against anti-gay bullying”, created in response to the recent wave of suicides by young gay people in the United States. Not to be confused with “wearing a pink shirt day, to take a stand against bullying”, which was on 28th April, as I recall. In fact I’m wearing a pink shirt (the very shirt I bought for the previous day) and my only item of purple clothing, a tie, plus a fluffy rainbow badge. The combination is interesting. Not sure if I should keep it on for Back Benches tonight, or go with the Metallica t-shirt.
You probably heard about the death of Tyler Clementi, the young music student whose flatmates secretly filmed him with another guy (just cuddling, as far as I know) and posted it on the internet, encouraging others to watch. Tyler responded by hurling himself from a bridge. His death was one of at least five in recent weeks in response to anti-gay bullying.
The response in the States has been quite amazing. I know this “wear purple” thing has the potential to seem like one of those Facebook-based campaigns that make participants feel good (actually worthwhile in its own right) but which don’t achieve any traction on the problem. I certainly encourage people to do more than wear purple. You could befriend someone being bullied, stand up against bullying or anti-gay prejudice or discrimination, and for those of us who are lesbian gay or bisexual, we can make visible our wonderful spectrum of well-adjusted realities (i.e. come out!)
Last year, when a NZ studywas published highlighting the torment that queer young people face, I wrote the following piece, of which I remain quite proud:
“The elimination of prejudice and discrimination is important not only for the creation of a fair society that celebrates difference and diversity, but also because our nation will be stronger if it uses all the talents and strengths available to it. We collectively lose if opportunities are effectively denied to some.
So in addition to the compassion that I am sure we all feel at the news that a third of same/both-sex attracted secondary students have seriously considered suicide and a half have deliberately harmed themselves in the past 12 months, we should also recognise that this represents a grievous waste of potential, which harms us all.
It is well-established that, with few exceptions, the health status of a population group is a function of its marginalisation in a society. That is why laws that discriminate and social environments that allow prejudice to persist are not only justice problems, but of fundamental concern in health.
It is no surprise to read that this group of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people are at increased risk of all sorts of health problems, including the risk of HIV infection.
Put yourself in the position of a young person coming to the understanding that she or he is not heterosexual. Very likely virtually every aspect of your social conditioning (family, friends, media, culture, church, school etc) has created an expectation for you and everyone else of heterosexuality. Occasionally you might be lucky enough to be aware of non-heterosexual adults who seem to have happy and productive lives, but these people are quite likely to seem pretty remote from you and more likely you will know of nobody else. You feel like the only one, you feel as if your very existence lets down everyone around you and you feel alone. To make things worse, you are surrounded by routine homophobia equating being gay with everything that is pathetic or disgusting. You’d feel pretty bad, right? I remember.
As adults we have both the opportunity and absolute responsibility to put that right. This latest research is about schools. Over the years there have been a number of excellent guidelines and resources developed for schools to help them do this better. Some have been excellent. But many schools have done nothing at all. It isn’t good enough, and we need to be working to ensure that there is a requirement, which is monitored and policed, for schools to take actions to actively support gay, lesbian and bisexual young people and to keep them safe.”
In the latest US campaign, Ellen de Generes has led celebrities and other public figures in a video-based promotion of the idea that “it gets better”. For a young person in the pit of despair it can seem that this will be her or his future. Older people with happy, great lives reaching out to them to say “that’s how it used to be for me too, but hang in there. It will get better for you too, and we want you in our community” can be an incredibly powerful message, not least because it counters the all-too-common perception of being alone, with nobody either understanding or caring.
Let’s all make a commitment to help convey that message here in NZ too.