Now that the bullying stories are in their second wave, there is now increasing attention to the question of what caused the bullying and the role homophobia and anti-gay rhetoric plays in that bullying. Inevitably, that discussion circles around to the role religion (specifically conservative Christianity) plays in that bullying and the suicides that sometimes result.
The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from lips of “faithful Christians,” and the lies that spew forth from the pulpit of the churches “faithful Christians” drag their kids to on Sundays, give your straight children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your straight children—having listened to mom and dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to the family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry himself to sleep—feel justified in physically attacking the gay and lesbian children they encounter in their schools. You don’t have to explicitly “encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate” gay kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It’s here, it’s clear, and we can see the fruits of it.
There has also been a reaction from conservatives. Our faithful readers at the Media Research Center/Newsbusters have accused NLGJA of wanting to slant news coverage by suggesting “crazy ministers” or groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council don’t need to be the first call when a gay teenager kills himself after being bullied.
At the religious conservative media watchdog site GetReligion, Terry Mattingly has suggested that the media has done a bad job of connecting the dots between bullying deaths and traditional religious believers because there isn’t evidence of “Bible-toting bullies with webcams” and asks “[w]ere these cyber-punks bar hoppers or members of a dorm Bible study?”
Let’s be clear. Good journalism requires fair and objective coverage of issues. If we are talking about the role religion may play in bullying, then of course we need to talk to people on all sides of the issue to flesh it out.
But the bullying story and how it connects to suicides for gay teens isn’t just about the perpetrators, but also about the larger culture of intolerance. It’s not about the religious beliefs of the bullies, but about the environment that creates that bullying. It’s also about the environment that leads a gay teen to be so distraught by the bullying that they want to kill themselves. Does the rhetoric of the religious right play a role in that environment and the messages that kid hears?
There are arguments to be made on both sides and good journalists ask questions of all sides. But good journalists also need to understand the issue and that it’s not just about the act of bullying. That means asking pundits like Dan Savage to back up their points and move beyond generalities. And it means asking activist groups like FotF and the Family Research Council to explain why they oppose anti-bullying legislation and inclusion of training on bullying targeting LGBT kids.
There’s an important conversation to be had here about whether religious speech can be harmful to LGBT kids. Good journalists can examine that issue fairly and accurately, but also they must be willing to be a part of that conversation and move beyond the usual voices.