“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”
Doubtless many of us were told to recite this to ward of the nefarious attentions of attentions of taunting classmates. If only the mantra were true! Sadly, as all of us now know, often it’s words that cut the deepest and leave the nastiest scars.
Personally, I have been gay bashed in the past – a fairly horrific, painful and upsetting experience. But, an experience with which I’ve been able to deal, and move on. A physical assault is direct, up front and – in its own way – honest. To me, bullying is something different, nastier … more insipid and hidden. Its effects less immediately obvious perhaps, but painful nonetheless, and a pain which is cumulative. Rather than dealing with the pain and then moving on, the victim of a bully often relives the misery over and over, each time adding to the suffering.
As a nation, we seem finally to be waking up to the fact that it’s not “just” bullying, something which “everyone goes through” and that a stiff upper lip and Anglo-Saxon stoicism aren’t the answer to it all. This is a good thing, but it’s not enough.
It’s not overkill to repeat some familiar statistics – 51% of gay men and 30% of lesbians were bullied physically at school, compared with 47% and 20% of straights. Add to that the fact that 50% of LGB adults who have been bullied a school contemplated self-harm or suicide and 40% have made at least one attempt. The list could go on, but it’s not really necessary; they should be shocking enough. The distressing thing is that we’re not shocked by these facts any more. The familiar statistics are all too familiar. And familiarity can breed contempt, or at least, disinterest.
Why do we carry on this way? We should be in absolute uproar at the horrific conditions in which LGBT youth are still growing up – instead, we seem to laugh it off. After all, many of us lived through it … perhaps we don’t see why the next generations shouldn’t? But in that outlook, we’re overlooking both the impact that bullying has on the individuals involved, and the reinforcement of the implicit acceptability of homophobia to the general public.
Surely we ought to want to continue the trend of the world getting better for our community – our goal should really be to leave behind a world where the possibility of homophobic bullying simply doesn’t exist, as no-one could conveive of a reason for such bigotry. Dismiss it as a utopian, pie in the sky, dream if you wish – but as you do, remember that many of the rights we now hold and cherish, were equally unimaginable not so long ago. Many people still remember dreaming a dream not dissimilar to today, so why not dream?