(Princess Bride reference aside, let's call this "Adults and Cowardice.")
Bullying. You've all heard about it recently-- the heartbreaking stories of gay children and teens driven to suicide, and the 14-year-old girl who hanged herself after being bullied for coming out as a rape survivor. Bullying has suddenly become a big deal. Great, you might think, people might actually support anti-bullying programs in schools now that numerous victims have already died. But no. Christian groups like Focus on the Family argue that anti-bullying programs "push the gay agenda." A Michigan high school teacher was suspended for kicking a student out of class who made a homophobic comment. What is this, people? Jezebel has got it totally right: it's time schools quit treating homophobia like it's a valid opinion worth respecting. Homophobic hate speech is no different from racism, and you wouldn't allow that in your schools now, would you?
One recent argument I heard against homosexual couples was that the children that gay couples might adopt would be harmed. A slew of studies have shown that this is not the case. (That article links to several different reports and studies.) As far as studies go, the most recent one was fairly scientifically rigorous: the measurement of social development and psychological health of the children was not based on the opinions of their parents alone but also of outside observers, like teachers and caregivers, and a control group of heterosexual couples was used. The conclusion? Quality of parenting determines the psychological health of the child, not the sexual orientation of the parents. From a policy standpoint, the data provide no justification for denying lesbian and gay adults from adopting children.
But won't children of gay and lesbian parents be bullied in school, you might ask? Yes, there is a high likelihood that they will. However, obese children, ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged children, even smart children get bullied too. The solution to the bullying problem is to address the bullying, not use it as a reason to prohibit gay couples from adopting children.
When I was in elementary school, I was bullied every day. Sometimes it was for being Asian in a neighborhood of rich white kids; sometimes it was for being a smart girl; but usually it was about my physical appearance. I got picked on for having a "mustache," the unfortunate result of having black hair but light skin. This bullying went on for years and only got worse as the tormentors grew in vocabulary and cleverness. It was a sly comment here, a rude gesture there. All things that might have been caught and reprimanded in kindergarten but ironically were ignored in sixth grade. I cried every day when I came home from school. Finally, I told my parents, and they spoke to my teacher about the bullying.
Her response? "That happened to me growing up too. You can buy products at CVS to bleach that hair."
My parents accepted that as an answer. So did I, at the time. Only after I left for college and had the ability to look back on those years without overwhelming bitterness did I realize how wrong a response that was. Where was the apology for letting this hateful bullying happen right under her nose? More importantly, where was the action in response to it? Even after my parents met with her, she never spoke up or stood up for me against the bullies. They never got in trouble, even though now she couldn't say she didn't know it was happening.
This is the huge problem with bullying nowadays. It is easier for teachers and administrators to coerce the bullied into changing than it is to confront the bullies themselves. Society already does its fair share of looking down upon the marginalized and pressuring them to change their identities; that makes it far too easy for adults to do it under the guise of looking out for the child's best interests when it is in fact a cowardly way of handling the problem.
If gay children are bullied, don't try to change them-- stop the bullying. If children of gay parents are bullied, don't prohibit gay couples from adopting-- stop the bullying. The problem is not why these children are the way they are. The problem lies with the parents, teachers, and administrators who turn a blind eye to the hateful words and actions that shouldn't be tolerated in the first place.
Why is this such a hard concept for policy-makers to understand? It's not like bullying is a valuable skill that children need to learn to grow into healthy, capable adults. (And if it is, well, something is grievously wrong with our society.) Stop bullying. Make sure kids understand that it is wrong, it is hurtful, and it reflects badly on them, not their victims. Give victims support. Stand up and say that bullying will not be tolerated in my classroom/school. And actually follow through with that-- watch for instances of bullying and address it every time it happens, not just when you feel like it.
No one should have to change who they are in order to go to school and not be picked on constantly. It's not about "pushing the gay agenda" or "protecting freedom of speech"; it's about creating a healthy environment for children to learn and grow in. Racism, classism, homophobia, and all other forms of hate speech are not valid opinions to be respected. Period.
On a more heartwarming note, here are two things that refresh my faith in humanity:
A 14-year-old student gave an eloquent speech in defense of the high school teacher that took a stand against homophobia. I was touched.
A mother proudly defended her son's right to wear whatever he wants for Halloween and correctly points to other mothers' judgmental attitudes as the problem. This was an amazing and uplifting piece to read.