Friday, April 24, 2009

Trees are for Hugging, not for Hanging

Remember yesterday, when I told you about the hateful ad from National Organization for Marriage? I promised to tell you today why it bothers me so much.

Homophobia is wrong.
Fear mongering is wrong.
Raising children to believe that gay people are bad is wrong.

This is a black and white issue for me.
Sort of like racism.
That's another monstrous wrong.

Which made me think of how the two issues are related. I spent some time recently over at Monkey Girl's place. She had a post about how it was fine with her if Texas seceded because she felt - well, I'll let you read what she said. One part that caught my eye dealt with all the hanging trees down in Texas. Trees which the tourism site blithely lists as attractions, noting:
The best way to survive as a tree in Texas is to arrange to have some historic event occur under (or hanging from) your branches.
Racism is still very much alive in this country. President and Mrs. Obama may be in the White House, but there are a lot of people saying very hateful things about them. And let's not forget this, this and this. It's not just words, either.

How does this relate to homophobia? Perhaps you haven't caught the news lately. I learned about a pair of tragedies related to homophobic bullying over at The Blue Door. My friend Mrs. Chili shared the news about 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who hung himself after enduring daily taunts of being gay.

I have to stop a minute to wipe my eyes. This could have been my son. This could have been my neighbor's son. It really doesn't matter whose son Carl was. His death is a blow to us all.

Rest in peace, Carl.

Then a few days later, I saw the title of Mrs. Chili's post: Quick Hit: We've Lost Another One.

Surely not, I thought.
She must be referring to something else.
She was not.
Another eleven year old, another hanging, for the same ugly, evil reason.

Jaheem Herrera, rest in peace.
I wish so much that you were still alive.

Mrs. Chili wrote a very fine post about things we can all do to foster love and show acceptance for gay people. If you click on only one link in my post, I hope you will click here.

And here too. I really like this post at Nailing Jello to the Wall. Sue J gives some excellent links for resources to combat intolerance and hatred.

If you travel around the Blog Universe, you will find a lot of people citing similar stories of young people driven to desperate acts by bullying from others. Some blame the schools for not taking action to stop it. Some point to the political climate with leaders who accepted torture instead of more humane methods of interrogation. Judith Warner has a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times about how young people socialize and the role that parents have in this process. There are hundreds of comments about it. I found my head nodding in agreement with one of them. A man wrote, in part:

Today, I live in NYC, with gay and lesbian friends and lovers.
New York City, a place where the new cardinal speaks once again as the bully on the playground.

It's more than just schools, or bullying classmates, or parents. It's our community as a whole. Bigots are everywhere, to be sure, but there seems to be a disproportionate number of them who are thumping on their Bibles. I think that people who make ads like the one from NOM bear significant responsibility. That people who proclaim that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality contribute mightily to this gay bashing. That people who voted to support Prop. 8 in California are a real part of the problem. They are culpable for these deaths.

This week was a busy one, with lots of stuff to occupy my time. Though I'm proud of my posts and my other activities, I am a little sad that I failed to acknowledge Earth Day in this blog. Environmental activism has been an important part of my family's life for many years, and I wish I'd written about it. Sometime soon, I will; for now this post title will have to do.

I had a hard time coming up with the title for this post. Given the nature of the two young men's suicides, I wanted to include a reference to that. I briefly considered using the famous song that Billie Holliday performed which condemned racism and the lynching of African Americans. The lyrics by Abel Meeropol are powerful indeed. But when I began to type in the title, a light bulb came on over my head. I don't want to be misunderstood in any way that I take this issue less than totally seriously.

And that is why this post is not called Strange Fruit.

Language is a fascinating, ever-altering instrument. It can be an instrument of change. An instrument of lovely musicality. Or an instrument of torture.

Be careful how you use it. Be mindful of your word choice.

Choose love over hate. And express that.


Rachel Fox said...

Heartbreaking stuff in this post.

Fantastic Forrest said...

It sure is, Rachel.

dianne said...

Terribly sad to read about these two boys...I'm having trouble expressing what I would like to desperate they must have felt to take their own lives...

Yes homophobia is wrong,let people be to live their lives as they would like,without punishing them or treating them differently or denying them the rights giveb to heterosexual couples.
I have some friends who are gay and they such lovely caring guys, good people.

I know the song 'Strange Fruit', I saw a documentary about the hanging of black people and the song as sung by Billie holiday.
Racism is still alive, when will some people ever learn acceptance and tolerance. ♡

Fiona Picklebottom said...

I really don't understand the intolerance for other races or homosexuality. I've always been of the live and let live mindset, and I've never fathomed why people would try to harass and shame other people into adopting their belief system. I'm sure that makes me naive, but so be it. What happened to those boys is horrible. I do think progress is being made, though, based on the differences in acceptance levels between when I was in school and now at my daughter's high school.

Tengrain said...

Very well done, again.

I cannot imagine the torment those boys must have endured that offing themselves seemed like a better solution.

MPS has been fighting NOM and the hateful Maggie Gallagher for a while. You should visit Christopher at Fromtheleft - he runs a fantastic LGBTQ-oriented blog.



Monkey Girl said...

Very well said FF. It IS very much a black and white issue (as in no area for grey)...and completely intolerable.

As my father taught me, any discrimination is unacceptable. And if you see, hear of such, speak up and speak loudly, because if you don't you are condoning their offensive behavior.

Don't stay silent. Speak out against all discrimination.

Emm said...

I know I don't comment half as often as I should, but I love that you believe in and write about so many of the things that make me passionate too.

Erin said...

Really young for suicide. How does that kind of thing even end up on an 11-year-old's plate?


Becky said...

Amen. So much hate and cruelty remains, but I am hopeful. I thought all the parodies of the NOM ad were great; I thought Colbert's was inspired. I agree with Frank Rich that the muted reaction on the right to the news in Iowa and Vermont shows how "depopulated, isolated, and brain dead" the bigots are.

I think/hope/pray their numbers really are dwindling.

Barry said...

Excellent post on a difficult subject. The fruit of hate and bigotry is terrifying stuff indeed.

I think we're learning, but what an uphill battle! And while we struggle to break down the barriers of hate and fear, how many more innocent lives will be lost?



The number keeps rolling around in my mind. I picture Lexi's classroom and I try to imagine a despair that deep, that young.

I am troubled.

Randal Graves said...

The power inherent in language is stronger than too many are led to believe. Save the hate for the Cheneys of the world.

Mrs. Chili said...

Thank you for the shout out. The more of us who are making a lot of noise about this, the less it will happen... at least, that is my dearest hope.

I am PROFOUNDLY affected by those two suicides (which, it should be noted, are suspected to be numbers FIVE AND SIX this year from homophobic bullying; I don't have the names and faces of the first four babies who chose to take their own lives rather than endure another day at school, but that doesn't make them any less real). My daughter is eleven. There but for the grace of the Goddess.

I often feel helpless in the face of all of this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that the best I can do is the best I can do, and to that end I live my life as an example of not just "tolerance," but acceptance. I will not raise hateful children. I try to be a safe place. I wish I could do more, but I have to content myself with what I CAN do.

Anonymous said...

First, of course I fully agree with you about the utter wrongness of both racism and homophobia.

But I looked at that website for Texas and couldn't see the racist link (although they do persistently refer to Native Americans as Indians, which is disturbing). To me, what is most upsetting about the hanging tree as a ourist attraction is that they are presenting state-supported murder as entertainment. That's twisted.

And oh, those poor desperate boys and the grieving families they've left behind. Such a terrible waste brought on by intolerance.

E. said...

Thanks so much for your comment on my Day of Silence post. I was actually thinking that next year if I choose to participate and not just support the Day of Silence, I'd do some sort of presentation involving the deadly effects of homophobia in present day USA. Your post gave me some additional resources I've bookmarked. I will definitely share the post from the Blue Door with my students.

Thanks for being an educator who speaks out against hate. Homophobia is one of the only socially acceptable forms of bigotry left (as you note, others like racism are still with us, but it's not OK to speak them out loud, at least not in the mainstream). We need to work together to change that.

Miss Healthypants said...

Excellent post!

I couldn't agree more. And I really do think that someday, the anti-gay marriage people will be looked back on the same way those were who once protested interracial marriage. At least I hope so. Bigotry is bigotry.

It's SO sad about these boys who killed themselves over the harrassing "teasing" that took place. My thoughts and prayers are with their families.

Miss Healthypants said...

I wanted to be clear that I put "teasing" in quotes because that's how some ignorant people see it. I see it as coldhearted, horrible bullying.

Lisa said...

I am so sick over these stories of hatred. It leaves me feeling so helpless. I take every opportunity to teach our kids to not hate anyone, but especially based on things like race, religion, sexual orientation.....

This is a great post, FF.

Jason, as himself said...

Thank you for this.