Last fall, a student in a Charleston high school tried to hang himself after a teacher repeatedly bullied him in front of his peers for being gay.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth have a particularly difficult adolescence to navigate. They are members of a group that some people feel free to openly hate and discriminate against, in a way that is, thankfully, no longer acceptable toward other groups.
This hatred toward LGBT people has been on ugly display in the controversy surrounding USC Upstate’s and the College of Charleston’s assigning of books and holding of events this spring discussing LGBT issues.
What’s worse is that the hate speech is coming from our own elected officials. State Sen. Kevin Bryant referred to the events as promoting “perversion,” sending the clear message that LGBT individuals are, in his mind, “perverts.” Rep. Garry Smith referred to the books the universities used for their campus reading programs (Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home) as “pornographic.” State Sen. Mike Fair said, “It’s just not normal ... [it] is a glorification of same-sex orientation.” He went on further to compare the texts to “skinheads and radical Islam.”
These elected officials believe books about lesbian and gay people living their lives, doing the same sorts of things heterosexual people do — going to church, saying goodbye to a dying relative, doing their jobs, raising their children — are pornography simply because any representation of lesbian and gay people is perverted and pornographic. Because lesbian and gay people are just not normal — they are perverts. These comments send the message that LGBT people are dangerous and threatening, like terrorists.
In 2007, Sean Kennedy, age 20, was leaving a bar in Greenville. A young man approached him, called him “faggot” and punched him in the face with such force that he died a few hours later.
What kind of climate does this hate speech create for a child who is coming to realize that he or she is gay or lesbian? It is a climate of rejection and hate. No wonder LGBT youth are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to be assaulted at school and twice as likely to attempt suicide. No wonder LGBT young adults who were rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, and six times more likely to be depressed, compared to LGBT people who had supportive families.
A study in Oregon found that 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens had made a suicide attempt, compared to 4 percent of heterosexual teens. The study also found that climate matters: LGBT teens who lived in more gay-supportive counties — assessed by measures such as prevalence of same-sex couples and schools with gay-straight alliances and policies against bullying gay students — were 20 percent less likely to have attempted suicide than LGBT teens in counties that were not as supportive.
This year, an 11-year-old boy in Raleigh, N.C., tried to hang himself and faces permanent brain damage because of the amount of time oxygen to his brain was cut off. The reason? He was bullied at school because he liked the cartoon My Little Pony.
Legislators, stop using hate speech to score cheap political points at the expense of those you serve — because you serve all South Carolinians in your district, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race or ethnicity.
We don’t need to lose any more of our kids.
Suzanne C. Swan
Department of Psychology and Women’s & Gender Studies Program
University of South Carolina
Andrew T. Schramm
Department of Psychology
University of South Carolina
In last week’s Our Dumb State edition, we wrote, “Last time we checked, there was no religious litmus test for holding public office, and we hope there never will be.”
Well, apparently we didn’t check closely enough, because there actually is a religious litmus test for holding public office in South Carolina. According to Article 17, Section 4 of the state constitution, “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.” Theocracy 1, Enlightenment 0.
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