BREAKING: Gay Teens Feel Awkward, Government Ready to Step In

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Time's John Cloud has a smart and daring critique of the effort to use the murder of gay teen Lawrence King to gin up support for the Matthew Shepard Act, which would bolster goverment power to prosecute hate crimes. Cloud's argument against this is taken straight from the data of a group doing some of the loudest lobbying for the law.

[The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] itself has published a great deal of survey data showing that most gay kids aren't suffering the way King did. Fully 78% of gay and transgender kids say they feel safe at school, according to a 2005 GLSEN report. According to another GLSEN survey released the same year, only 18% of gay and transgender students said they had ever been assaulted because of their sexual orientation (only 12% — probably many of the same kids — said they had been assaulted because of the way they express their gender). And of those who had been harassed or assaulted, more than one-fifth — 22% — said the incident wasn't serious enough to report. When they did report the incidents, the response from school staffs was positive about 70% of the time. That's not enough — it should be 100% — but it belies the dire picture painted by gay groups in the wake of King's killing.

More from those numbers…

True, 66% of gay and transgender kids said they had heard homophobic remarks. But roughly the same proportion — 62% — had heard sexist remarks. Some 16% of gay and transgender kids said they had been harassed because of their sexual orientation, but 18% said they had been harassed because of "the way you look or your body size." (Teachers reported they heard sexist comments more often than homophobic ones, and they also saw more harassment based on appearance and weight than on sexual orientation.) It's difficult to imagine the teenager who has never been painfully teased about something. We forget sometimes that to be a teenager — any teenager — is to learn to cope with the turbid, inchoate bigotries of still-developing minds.

Whole thing here. More reason on hate crimes here.

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  1. When I was a teenager my bigotries were inchoate but not turbid. I really question the rest of the article now…

  2. Teachers reported they heard sexist comments more often than homophobic ones, and they also saw more harassment based on appearance and weight than on sexual orientation.

    Soon they will be convicted for Weight Crimes.

  3. If one out of five black kids were being assaulted for their race we would have a very serious problem.

  4. Man up, Nancy!

  5. Will “hate crimes” still exist when whitey becomes the minority in 2050?

  6. Anon a black person can get accused of a hate crime already if he attacks a white person for their race.

  7. I am a straight white man and I’ve heard racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-intellectual, intellectual elitist, bourgeois disdain for the proletariate, proletarian class resentment, and just about every other kind of harassment known to man thrown about in school. And that’s just the stuff that was directed at me.

  8. Amazingly, I was once told that kids can be cruel. Now, since most of us have never been a kid it is understandable that we didn’t realize that. However, there is no excuse for people like Gary Coleman or Webster.

  9. I think there is a tendency to view student behavior through the prism of adult politics, when it’s not that sophisticated.

    The purpose of a schoolyard insult is not to communicate any political content. It’s about dominance. Any insult will do and the content is irrelevant. One kid [or group of kids] wants to demonstrate to another that they can insult them with impunity because they are in charge. The actual text of the insult is a placeholder.

    I’m willing to bet that the gay kids getting harassed aren’t 6’5″ and bulked out. They probably are obviously weak and isolated and targets like that won’t be passed up by other kids unless those kids are under complete control by some authority.

    “They don’t want me to express my gender difference!” really has nothing to do with it. What they really want is just to abuse someone. The gender difference is just the ammunition being used.

  10. This shit is so gay.

  11. “Gary Coleman or Webster”

    Both were short, black kids.

    Is your remark a Hate Crime? Oh yeah… short isn’t “protected”.

    CB

  12. Fluffy,

    More or less, but children who are taught to accept gender differences (especially if they are taught this at home – not sure how well schools could do it) would be less likely to seek out the gender different kids when looking for someone to be a jerk to.

  13. Wasn’t there a high school for gay\trans kids in Manhattan that opened recently?

    I’d like to see what kind of teasing and social ostracism goes on in that school. I dare say that it does occur.

  14. I keep forgetting that the backslash won’t show up.

  15. Assaults should be prosected no matter who is the victim or the perpetrator. As assault.

    I truly wonder who is on the receiving end of the most cutting remarks in high school. Is it gays, lesbians, fat girls, or nerds? Perhaps it’s the poor, the painfully shy or the mentally slow? Except for Skip, the rich kid starting QB, and Buffy, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen, we are all victims.

    Damn, life is unfair. The government should do something about that.

  16. I truly wonder who is on the receiving end of the most cutting remarks in high school. Is it gays, lesbians, fat girls, or nerds?

    Probably the gay lesbian fat girl nerd.

  17. Puberty sucked. Constant harassment from one’s peers accounts for most of the suckatude. People make fun of you. They make fun of you for being gay, for being fat, for being slow witted, for being poor, for being antisocial, for being ugly, and just for being.

    It sounds like GLBT teens are having a rough time of it. That is something that should be addressed (but not by the Federal Government!) It’s not clear to me that they are having a rougher time than everyone else.

  18. It’s difficult to imagine the teenager who has never been painfully teased about something.”

    The MSA does not make teasing a crime.

  19. “Probably the gay lesbian fat girl nerd”
    Rosie O’Donnell?

  20. More or less, but children who are taught to accept gender differences (especially if they are taught this at home – not sure how well schools could do it) would be less likely to seek out the gender different kids when looking for someone to be a jerk to.

    You see, that’s exactly what I don’t really believe.

    Consider race as an analogue for sexual preference. Racist white kids will pick on weak black kids, and keep their mouths shut around weightlifter black kids who can fuck their shit up. And nonracist white kids will also pick on weak black kids, and keep their mouths shut around weightlifter black kids who can fuck their shit up. The only thing that will change is the text of the insults directed at the weak black kids.

    I think sexual preference is pretty much the same, with the only exception being that to the extent that openly gay male students display feminine characteristics this may be perceived as indicating physical weakness and may increase the number of kids seen as weak potential targets.

  21. Lesbians are already gay, they are also already girls* (/pedant)

    I’m sure that GLBT teens are having a worse time of it, much worse in some cases. It’s just that it’s matter of degrees and not some completely different type of hell that other kids don’t also experience.

    * When someone told me that guys who like to hang out with lesbians are called “Dutch boys”, I didn’t get it right away. When it finally hit me I laughed.

  22. rana,
    You bitch! How dare you call Rosie O’Donnell a nerd! Speaking for nerds, Rosie is definitely NOT one of us. I seriously doubt if she could tell a Klingon from a Romulan.

  23. “They [gay teenagers] are periodically confused and depressed, but what teen isn’t?”

    The academic literature is teeming with studies showing that gay teens, especially males, are far more likely to ideate about suicide, perhaps by a factor of ten, and also more likely to attempt suicide.

    Cloud’s homosexuality notwithstanding, this arrogantly flippant “what’s the big deal” piece is not a bandwagon people should be jumping onto, one’s views on the MSA notwithstanding.

    Reagrdless of one’s conclusions regarding policy, it never “libertarian” to be wilfully oblivious to facts.

  24. Fully 78% of gay and transgender kids say they feel safe at school

    My immediate reaction is shouldn’t 100% of kids feel safe at High School? Then I remembered that we’re talking about High School, the most brutal social environment known to man.

  25. with that said I totally agree with KipEsquire. Using this justify hate crimes is stupid, but you shouldn’t pretend that GLBT teens have it as hard as any other kid.

  26. fluffy makes a good point. i think the ‘hate crimes’ advocates would respond that while non-political schoolyard dominance games (‘schoolyard politics’?) might be the mechanics behind smaller less-bold GLBT kids or feminine, ‘weak’-appearing gay boys getting picked on, the fact remains that being gay or perceived as gay means you’re more likely to get picked on than you would be if you weren’t. of course, the same goes for being a misfit of a thousand other stripes.

    in my suburban central jersey town, there were 1 or two gay-acting boys who didn’t get picked on much. more of it was racial tension, directed mostly (or maybe this was just my perception because I was one) at foreign/1st generation kids of the type who didn’t band together (i always admired black and mexican kids for their solidarity) to defend each other. anyway, i think the usual weirdos/smelly kids/skinny wimps/losers etc made up the bulk of the put-upon.

    then again there was an openly gay male teacher who was absolutely ostracized and ridiculed by everyone. i never once saw a male teacher socialize with him in public.

  27. Uhhh, they DO know that Matthew Shepard’s murder was NOT a hate crime based on his sexuality, but a robbery gone bad so the two losers who killed him could score more meth?

    The gay rage defense that came out in trial was a smokescreen that was rebutted later.

    Yes Matthew had been harassed by others in high school… but having been friends with numerous members of the University of Wyoming LGBTA in the mid-late 90s, including some of Matthew Shepard’s friends, I found Laramie to be very open to most people’s personal preferences, much like any college town. That despite the “cowboy legacy” of the town and the obvious geography… Wyoming was where I picked up many of my libertarian attitudes towards social progressiveness and the benefits of small government.

  28. …transgender kids…

    Uh, what? Do we not tell little Johnny to wait until he’s 18 before getting estrogen shots and cutting off his dick?

  29. short isn’t “protected”

    Yet.

  30. Wow, so GLBT kids contacted through organizations that work with GLBT youth report better experiences than might have been expected from GLBT teens. Could it be because the surveyed group was comprised disproportionately of teens who are out to their families, friends and/or schoolmates?

    Sure, that’s more common than it used to be (which was pretty much “not at all” a few decades back), but I’d be hesitant to say the survey group is representative of GLBT teens overall. If anything, the results seem to indicate that in communities where support systems for GLBT youth have been around for a while, broader community acceptance follows.

  31. sounds like a headline from the Onion

  32. …transgender kids…

    Uh, what? Do we not tell little Johnny to wait until he’s 18 before getting estrogen shots and cutting off his dick?

    I don’t know whether this comment was meant to be ironic or not, but just to stop the spread of ignorance, I’d like to point out that you have confused the term “transgender” (a person who acts/dresses/identifies as one gender while biologically remaining the opposite gender) with transsexual, someone who has taken hormones and undergone an operation to change his/her biological sex. i.e., the difference between pre-op and post-op.

    gender=identifies as either male or female (woman trapped in a man’s body, vice versa)
    sex=biologically male or female (male sex=penis, female sex=vagina)

  33. _________________, government ready to step in.

    That sums it up.

  34. “Gay teens feel awkward….” Yes, the 18% of gay kids who report being assaulted really shouldn’t expect the federal government — or, god forbid, libertarians — to step in and help them. Having someone beat the shit out of you because of who you are is just part of that awkward stage of life.

    Maybe they should try not being gay next time. That way they can be cool and make jokes about Rosie O’Donnell being a fat lesbian loser, not all gay and awkward and assaulted.

  35. Well, Houdini, although I still tend to think that the political component of ubiquitous youth cruelty is being overplayed here, I would say that the best way to protect these kids is to remake the entire educational establishment of the US on more consumerist grounds.

    It really stupefies me sometimes that schools – even private schools – appear to be one of the few institutions operating in the US where customer satisfaction doesn’t count for anything.

    There aren’t a lot of restaurants or movie theatres out there where the guy sitting next to you gets to fuck with you and you have no recourse. Why aren’t students more like customers? Public schools, I guess I can understand why their customers are treated like dirt – but even private schools are like this.

    I guess on some level it’s partially because the kids aren’t the actual customer, the parents are – but if you were sitting in a restaurant and someone was harassing your kid, wouldn’t you pretty much go berserk?

  36. This is the point y’all are missing:

    Regardless of who’s being teased for what, assault is a very different issue from teasing. no one should be assaulted based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference, and assaults based on gender/sexual preferences should be treated with as little tolerance as assaults based on race and religion.

    As cthulu2008 said(a comment that people seemed to ignore), “If one out of five black kids were being assaulted for their race we would have a very serious problem.”

    Furthermore, if there was a survey released saying that reports of assaults based on RACE received positive responses from school staff only 70% of the time, that survey would be making headlines and passing hate-crime acts overnight, and rightly so.

  37. will:

    don’t even bother. the commentariat here barely has any respect for transgender libertarian economists; they’re certainly not going to show any respect for lesser souls.

  38. Maybe they should try not being gay next time.

    That’s how I got through high school. It works.

  39. On another note (though not directly related to MSA), I agree with what Fluffy said about harassment in high-schools. Saying that high-school is a naturally miserable place is an undeveloped, circular defense; why can’t anything be done about assaults in high-schools? If you were the nerdy/fat/short/skinny/whatever kid who got the shit beaten out of him/her every day, you’d probably have a different opinion about defending such a poor establishment.

  40. “Gay Teens Feel Awkward”? How about “Gay Teens are Getting Shot in the Fucking Head”! Mr. Weigel, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  41. Don’t mess with my Too-Too

  42. Yes, the 18% of gay kids who report being assaulted really shouldn’t expect the federal government — or, god forbid, libertarians — to step in and help them.

    Bullshit, Houdini. You won’t find any libertarian who doesn’t think assault shouldn’t be punished.

  43. Oops. Double negatived there. Just ignore the “n’t” of your choice. Well, not the first one.

  44. Will,

    Thanks for that clarification.

  45. Well, Houdini, Rosie O’Donnell is fat, and she is a lesbian. I don’t know if she’s a loser, though- she seems to have done pretty well for herself.

    More important, I think, is that she is an annoying loudmouth.

    And truthaddict, how about we prosecute all assaults equally? Making categories of assaults which are somehow more egregious or sinister because of their motive seems to be a meaningless exercise in political correctness. If I walk up to you and punch you in the face, I should receive the same punishment regardless of if I punched you in the face because you’re gay or because I didn’t like your shirt.

  46. Mk wrote, “It’s just that it’s matter of degrees and not some completely different type of hell that other kids don’t also experience.”

    Maybe for GLB students, but for T students, it is a whole other catagory. For transsexual teens, puberty itself is a living hell. Imagine what it’s like to watch in horror as your body develops in a way that is completely at odds with your inner identity. The emerging secondary sex characteristics are grotesque and alien to the trans teen who spent his childhood praying for a miracle to transform his body into alignment with his mind. Now a teen, nature’s cruel betrayal is complete. Trans teens often lose all self-esteem; survival becomes a constant struggle.

    Now imagine being ridiculed and teased relentlessly by other kids on top of that.

  47. “””no one should be assaulted based on race, religion, gender, or sexual preference, and assaults based on gender/sexual preferences should be treated with as little tolerance as assaults based on race and religion.””””

    No one should be assaulted, should be good enough. I don’t think the person who assaults me should do less jail time because I’m a white straight man.

  48. Wolfgang,
    I appreciate that. It must be very difficult. But we have to go back to whether or not they are being assaulted disproportionately to other kids.

    I never ran into a transgender person while I was a teenager. I did, however, have many friends who fit into one of the first three categories. How they reacted to societal disapproval fell at every point in the spectrum of responses; from terribly bummed out and shamed, to giving back much more than they were getting and seemingly unaffected.

  49. I never ran into a transgender person while I was a teenager.

    Would running into a transgender person be a hate crime?

  50. Maybe they should try not being gay next time.

    That’s how I got through high school. It works.

    Hey, me too! Oh wait, you meant that you pretended to not be gay. I see.

    “Gay Teens Feel Awkward”? How about “Gay Teens are Getting Shot in the Fucking Head”! Mr. Weigel, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    This should qualify for a drink. But only a fruity, totally faggy drink.

  51. OO====D + OO===D = fun!

  52. “Gay Teens Feel Awkward”? How about “Gay Teens are Getting Shot in the Fucking Head”! Mr. Weigel, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    “This should qualify for a drink. But only a fruity, totally faggy drink.”

    LOL!
    My gay friends and I like to drink mandarin margaritas or sangria (I’m not gay but I’m a woman so I can admit I like fruity drinks).

  53. Isn’t Wegel Gay? I mean that sincerely; just look at his picture. And if so, where’s the disclamer? Is he closeted? Does he suffer from internalized homophobia? His discounting of assaults on gay teens would seem to support this.

  54. Hey, me too! Oh wait, you meant that you pretended to not be gay. I see.

    Actually, I didn’t pretend either gay or straight. As it happens, the issue never came up in the crowds I hung around (both nerds and jocks). Nor was I “bullied” very much at all throughout all my school years. Either I’m lucky, or the commonly-accepted depiction of school as a jungle full of preying bullies is overblown many times over.

  55. the commonly-accepted depiction of school as a jungle full of preying bullies is overblown many times over

    I think it varies from school to school. My school had virtually no physical violence, and ripping on people was considered an admirable pastime. But that included ripping on anyone, though of course there were those who got it more.

    But I think there are also your Heathers type and Freaks and Geeks type schools out there too. We just didn’t go to one.

    Actually, I didn’t pretend either gay or straight.

    Me too! But my obvious lusting after certain girls sort of indicated straightness anyway.

  56. Me too! But my obvious lusting after certain girls sort of indicated straightness anyway.

    It’s funny. By the time I was a junior or senior (c. 1988), the incoming classes started to include some obvious gays. Before then it would have been unthinkable. I sincerely hope kids no longer feel the need to pretend, uh… sexlessness? What a bore that was.

  57. Same time frame for me, too, and I would say that it was similar. However, I didn’t think anybody was obviously gay (I wasn’t concerned one way or the other so I wasn’t looking), and I have never heard about anyone from high school who later turned out to be gay. There had to be some, though.

  58. Trickyvic:
    No one should be assaulted, should be good enough. I don’t think the person who assaults me should do less jail time because I’m a white straight man.

    Jim Bob:
    And truthaddict, how about we prosecute all assaults equally? Making categories of assaults which are somehow more egregious or sinister because of their motive seems to be a meaningless exercise in political correctness. If I walk up to you and punch you in the face, I should receive the same punishment regardless of if I punched you in the face because you’re gay or because I didn’t like your shirt.

    To begin with, I’d like to refer you both to a relevant article by Andrew Sullivan, who shares a similar perspective to your own, while making an important distinction:
    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/05/hate_crimes_and.html

    Oddly enough, John Cloud himself references this article in his rail against hate-crime legislation in general, even though the point of Sullivan’s article is to address the double-standard of current hate-crime laws against gay people.

    Regardless of whether or not you approve of hate-crime legislation as a whole, the failure of MSA, (which only adds ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexual orientation to current hate crime legislation) will not lead to a repeal of the 1969 hate-crime law, which already protects “any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and because he is or has been.” This law will remain regardless of whether or not MSA is passed, because any talk of its repeal would be immediately shot-down by minority groups and their majority supporters.

    Therefore, the failure of MSA would only result in crimes motivated by “race, color, religion or national origin” continuing to be punished more severely than crimes motivated by ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. No matter how idealistic you are about treating all assaults equally, this would in no way bring our criminal justice system closer to any ideal of equality.

  59. Rhywun, where did you go to high school? Maybe you were a gay dude in my school. 🙂

  60. Rochester, NY.

  61. truthaddict,

    From the Sullivan piece:

    There are, I think, two coherent positions on hate crime laws. The first is opposition to the entire concept, its chilling effect on free speech, its undermining of the notion of equality under the law, and so on.

    The quote is the position with which I agree. Having said that, Sullivan’s thesis is valid; it’s also yet another reason to support the repeal of so-called “hate crime” laws.

  62. If you think repeal is realistic…

  63. Mk wrote, “But we have to go back to whether or not they are being assaulted disproportionately to other kids.”

    I think the only way to truly assess that would be to place researchers in the schools to make detailed observations. Furthermore, there’s the issue of impact: What one kid is able to just blow off may be traumatic for another. I just wanted to point out in my previous post that the the experience of adolescence is markedly different for trans kids than for other groups, which your previous statement seemed to overlook.

    I was in school back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, and as I recall, junior high was the worst. Geographic region is also a huge factor. In my experience, kids in the midwest were generally more laid-back and tolerant than kids in the west, who were more “in-your-face” and more obsessed with being cruel.

  64. If you think ellipses are just for breakfast…

  65. Please Jim Bob, reason, not rhetoric.

  66. The fuck are you talking about?

  67. The argument for hate-crimes legislation is that punishment for crime should serve as a deterrent, and in some cases extra deterrents are needed. If gays are victimized disproportionately, then a harsher ‘hate crimes’ sentence sends a message that such a crime will not be tolerated. Eventually, when the numbers even out, the sentences should as well.

  68. Maybe they should try not being gay next time.
    That’s how I got through high school. It works.

    Not so much if you choose to take choir instead of PE. It always amazed me that the jocks, who went out on the playing field with only other boys and huddled, slapped each other on the butt, and showered together were “manly men.” The guys in the choir, where it was two girls per boy, you got to sing love songs together, and if there was choreography dance together, were considered homo.

    In related news, the Pink Pistols have filed an amicus brief in D.C. v Heller. (PDF) A somewhat different approach, self-defense.

    They say that most assaults occur in the gay’s home.

  69. We forget sometimes that to be a teenager – any teenager – is to learn to cope with the turbid, inchoate bigotries of still-developing minds.

    It would help if we didn’t force teenagers to spend their weekdays couped up with nothing but a bunch of other teenagers.

  70. It would help if we didn’t force teenagers to spend their weekdays couped up with nothing but a bunch of other teenagers.

    I have to ask. Did you really mean cooped up in school, or are you cleverly using “couped” to refer to time spent in ubiquitous teenage automobiles?

  71. Uh oh, I guess I’ve been listening to too much Chuck Berry.

  72. …ONLY 18% say they’d been assaulted?

    How is nearly one in five an argument for restraint? If “only” 18% of people walking down a street at night got mugged, would you want to go there?

    Now I think that these kinds of hate crime laws are terrible, terrible, very bad, no good, stupid ideas. I fiercely oppose any such Mat Sheppard laws, but DAMN- using this kind of data as to help the cause is simply retarded.

  73. I believe there are many gay kids who would never describe themselves as gay because doing so would invite hate, abuse, and shunning from their own families. People think that high school is the worst fate a gay teen could suffer, and that is stupidly naive. Being born to gay-hating parents is much, much worse, and it has been common for a long, long time.

    Does anyone here know what it feels like to be hated to the point of wishing eternal torture on you by your own parents when they discovered what turned you on — and there was no way of appeasing them short of changing the way you feel? Is your experience anything like that?

    That’s reality for many, many gays, and many of them will choose to say “I’m straight” and even get married in a straight marriage to avoid the consequences of doing otherwise.

    All this “high school” bullshit is just bullshit.

    And no, the government can’t fix this, either.

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