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The saddest week

I realize that events happen randomly, but it seems that sometimes there’s a spate of some type of event that really brings it into focus. Last week, it was the suicides of gay teens.

If you’ve missed the news, you can find it through Google. It’s heartbreaking and also somehow unsurprising. The details are often uncannily similar: A young person becomes so distraught that he takes his life, and often his friends and family had no indication that such an act was imminent.

There are people, however, who know what’s happening. They are the ones who are getting something — satisfaction? glee? power? status? — from torturing this person on the basis of his presumed sexual preference. With hardly an exception, they say that they didn’t know it was so bad. And that’s probably true. But yet, they did it, and unlike most of the not-so-nice things we may do in life, this one comes with rather final and unredeemable consequences.

I understand why in traditional societies, social control was exerted through restrictive belief systems. Just a couple of reasons: Procreation was necessary for a small group to prosper; people were more comfortable living closely with people they pretended were “just like them” (and made sure to shun or murder anyone who didn’t follow these rules).

But in modern-day America, there is simply no justification for caring about someone’s sexual preference – unless, of course, you are interested in interacting with that person sexually. We have set up a society where we can work together then go home to our own social groups, and we did this because the people who founded the country saw the consequences of having societies led by restrictive social rules. True, the restrictions they knew about were not the ones that many of us care about today, but they remained purposely vague in our Constitution. This country was clearly founded on the idea that people can get along without forcing each other to march to the same drummer. And most of the time we do that.

I chose to come out West because it felt like the right place for me. There are plenty of people here I don’t agree with, and we simply agree to disagree and then live our lives. It seems to me that we’re living the sort of life that the founders envisioned: we come together over government, but go to whatever church we wish to (or none at all), have whatever friends we want, and live our lives.

It makes me so tired that we have to keep having these arguments. No, it is just simply not OK in any sense to vilify people because of their sexual preferences. You’re uncomfortable? Fine. You don’t want him for a roommate? There are ways to fix that. He’s propositioning you and making you uncomfortable even after you asked him to stop? Again, lots of legal and humane ways to deal with that problem.

But badgering people, hounding them, exposing their intimate moments, calling them nasty names, beating them up… and all the other things these teens were subjected to are just un-American. We are a nation of differences, and anyone who doesn’t like that can just go find an oligarchy to hang out in. Don’t worry — we’ll let you back in once you’ve realized your mistake.

The thing that makes me saddest is that if these distraught people could have been able to see how many of us stand behind them and not behind their torturers, they might have felt they had other options. But when your principal makes excuses for them, everyone in your dorm treats them like the cool, popular kids, and sometimes even people who love you find it hard to say they accept you no matter what, it’s a little hard to see the big picture.

I think that all the parents out there reading these stories can learn a very important lesson: we must raise our children to be tolerant of differences. Tolerant doesn’t mean that we condone or personally accept those differences. We tolerate. Because that’s better than the other option. And those of us who do more than tolerate, who really just don’t care about those differences, can be very vocal to our children about this. We accept and support people being who they are. We accept and support our own children. We accept and support other children. We do our best to guarantee every teen safety, both physical and emotional, when s/he is at school or away at college. We guarantee them dignity.

I’m sad for the teens who are gone. I’m sad for their parents. And I’m also sad for the tormentors. This is a really hard way to learn a lesson, but we can only hope that they do learn. I’d love to see them, instead of slinking back to the locker room, dorm room, or homeroom, speaking out. I hope that something good could result from a mistake that they will never be able to fix.

Posted in Culture.

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