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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On Bullying and Discrimination of Gay Kids and Gay Suicide / The Oppression Olympics

Edited extracts of YR posts on protecting gay teenagers from unfriendly remarks in schools (full reproduction on the YR blog or the mailing list itself):

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: 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... 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?...

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_... 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

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."


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

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... 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.

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... So discriminating against vegetarians could be considered a less severe offence than discriminating against 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.

>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

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.

[Addendum: Related - The Harm of Reparative Therapy / Reasons to think Social Discrimination is not important in Homosexuals' Health Problems

"perceived discrimination was associated with suicidality". Perceived discrimination and actual discrimination are not the same. So ironically, since going on about homophobia increases the perception that there is homophobia, it would result in more suicide.]

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)...

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.

>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.
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