Bait and Switch

Up until at least my senior year of high school, I was the target of bullying.  Socially maladapted, hyper, overly-imaginative, lack of self-confidence, and physically unintimidating – all of these combined to make me an easy target for various casual bullies.  I was a target of opportunity most of the time.  I don’t know that they had anything really against me per se, but I was an easy outlet and quick fix for the need to feel superior, stronger, whatever.

So I understand the pain and anguish of being bullied, and it’s something that no child ought to have to deal with.  I don’t approve of bullying, and don’t condone it in any fashion.  As broken human beings, I don’t think we’re ever going to be rid of that innate inclination to make ourselves feel better at another’s expense.  This is part of our broken nature and we won’t ever fully be free of that in this life.  That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attempt to keep it in check, though.  That being said, we need to be clear when we’re coming out against bullying or lobbying for fundamental changes in how our society and culture act and think.
I noticed an acquaintance of Facebook had posted this video link from Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page.  The prompting issue for this video is the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a college-freshman.  His room mate and another student secretly video-taped Tyler’s sex-session and broadcast it over the Internet.  It turns out that it was a homosexual sexual encounter, and now the various groups associated with advancing the rights of lesbians, gays, bixsexuals and transgendered individuals (LGBT) are rallying to this as another leverage point for furthering the legal enforcement and advocacy of these alternative sexual lifestyles.  They are doing this under the guise of anti-bullying.
What happened to Clementi is tragic.  What his roommate and the other student did to him is callous and cruel on a remarkable scale.  They are likely to face at least manslaughter charges over this incident, which could land both of them in prison for years.  TheLBGT community is pushing to have them also charged with biased-based crimes, which would require proving that the two acted as they did specifically because they knew that Clementi was gay – that his homosexuality was the cause for their actions.  This would carry a much stiffer penalty.  At issue obviously would be demonstrating that they acted how they did because of Clementi’s sexual orientation, and that their actions were also reasonably linked to his suicide in a causal manner.  Both of these – at least at this point – look to be more difficult to prove.  Evidence may certainly emerge that might alter those odds, however.
What Clementi suffered was terrible.  Terrible aside from the issue of his suicide.  His suicide just escalates the loss in this issue exponentially.  I have little doubt that neither of the two students facing very real and serious legal charges in this incident ever dreamed that they would be on the hook for manslaughter and hate crimes.  Based on available information at this time, it is obvious that they acted with cold disregard for another human being, but it doesn’t seem obvious that they ever dreamed of what their cruelty might lead to – either for Clementi or themselves.
The Ellen clip is not just about bullying, though.  It is another call to eliminate homosexuality as something that can in any way be criticized or marginalized – not just in the hooliganism of schoolyard or roommate bullying and insensitivity, but in the larger arena of public dialog.  Once disagreeing with someone over their sexual preferences is ruled to be illegal, anyone can claim to be bullied by the comments of anyone who disagrees with them.  Free speech becomes gagged.  Opposition and difference of opinion are silenced not by the weight of argument and discourse, but by preventing argument and discourse in the first place.  
Again, I condemn what Clementi suffered at the hands of his peers.  But the focus needs to be kept where it rightfully should be – on the fact that two very intelligent young people could plan and execute an action that could cause another person such pain.  At least at this point, the sexual issue of Clementi seems to be very secondary.  From what I can tell, his peers didn’t know who he was inviting to the dorm room when he requested some privacy from his roommate.  It seems possible that once this was determined, it set the stage for future actions that never came to pass because of Clementi’s death.  But based on what I’ve read thus far, the homosexual nature of the event was a surprise.  
The actions of his peers ought to be the focus of our outrage, not the fact that it happened to a homosexual person per se.  This would be no less tragic if Clementi had been heterosexual – but it would probably wouldn’t be getting the media coverage that it is now that homosexuality is involved.  I haven’t seen much broader discussion of the issue of suicide among college students, even though the numbers appear to be frighteningly high.  Why is the discussion being focused on homosexuality rather than the larger questions of why our young people seek to take their lives at ever increasing levels?  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students.  Shouldn’t this cause a greater reaction than demanding that homosexuality be legitimized?  
We do need to address this issue of bullying in our youth (and adults) where insensitivity and desensitization to violence and harm can combine to devastating effects.  Clementi’s death is tragic, but so is the stigma and long-term marginalization of his life that could have occurred from their actions even if he had not killed himself.  They may not have intended to cause death, but they clearly were willing to cause harm that might follow him all of his life – professionally and personally as well as academically.  
Bullying is a terrible abuse of power or authority or influence against another person(s).  Unfortunately, what people might fail to recognize in the emotionalism of this event is that the LGBT argument that sexual alternative lifestyles must be legally protected and advocated for is a form of bullying in itself, whereby a tiny fraction of people demand that an entire culture revolve around themselves and their choices.  Bullying ought to be stopped, but it ought to stop in all forms, and from all sides.  Ultimately Clementi’s death is not simply a matter of homosexuality, but of an ongoing crisis in our young people that leads them to think about – and sometimes act on – taking their own life.  Something bigger is at play here than sex.  Let’s not miss the boat.

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