You know that scene in the Goblet of Fire movie when Lucius is taunting the Weasleys at the Quidditch World Cup and Draco tries to join in, but his father sticks his cane right in his stomach? I must have seen that movie at least sixty times, but that part always makes me flinch. Now, here’s a character who likes to refer to Hermione as a “Mudblood,” never misses an opportunity to remind Ron of how poor his family is, and tries to serve Harry Potter up to the Dark Lord himself and yet, you can’t help feeling bad for him. I mean, with a dad like that…
Months ago, I had been tempted to write an article about some bullying that I was experiencing. I think when we get to be a certain age, we like to say people are just being prize-winning jerks, but we all know what bullying is, and we know, even at 24, when it’s happening to us. You’re being picked on mercilessly, humiliated for the entertainment of a large group of peers, or shamed for something about you that is true, that you can’t control, and that you so desperately wish to be able to be proud of, but can’t because it will only exacerbate an already bleak situation. This is not easy for me to admit, but I had been hiding a bit at work. Of course, I’m out. People ask me my name, and I’m out, but I consciously toned myself down. These guys I worked with were tough on me from the beginning. They didn’t want me in their club and picking on me actually made life more fun for them – I could literally see their camaraderie strengthen over this. Some guys wouldn’t look or talk to me at all, even about work, and would only engage when one of their buddies was picking on me. So I toned down some of my more flamboyant qualities and I dressed with less fashion sense (the HORROR), honestly because I find when people are already struggling to stomach my transgenderism, they’re downright repulsed by the fact that I have a rather fluid sexuality. But try as I did, I just am who I am, and before I knew it, I was getting some attention. At first, I was happy for it to fly under the radar of my superiors, fearing retaliation. Eventually, I had a one-on-one altercation with one of the guys over my right to use the men’s bathroom. I, of course, went home that night and just hoped that I could forget about it and that they’d leave me alone, but the very next day, I was told the owner of my company wanted to meet with me, and when we did, he informed me that five people had come to him about “what happened.” The funny thing was, none of them could tell him the details of the situation at all, probably because if they had, it wouldn’t have shown their friend in a very good light. But they’d still gone to him, with nothing to say, they’d gone, taken time out of their lunch hours to put a stop to… me.
A few days ago, I was talking with my mom about the recent teen suicides that were a result of anti-gay bullying. I brought up Lawrence King, the gay teen who was shot in 2008 by his classmate, Brandon McInerney. I had read a quote from Newsweek that said that the shooting was “the most prominent gay-bias crime since the murder of Matthew Shepard.” I don’t know why the countless hate crimes in the decade that passed between didn’t get much media attention, they were every bit as violent, but perhaps the even greater injustice is the anti-gay bullying that has been going on for years and years that has never even been treated as violence until now. Verbal abuse is violence. Millions of kids went through our school systems during that time- what happened to the kids who didn’t become Brandon McInerneys? The kids who didn’t have access to a gun? Well, for the most part, the ones who don’t have a great life-changing experience, they maintain the same attitudes and beliefs and turn into grown-up bullies.
These kids are the Draco Malfoys of the real world. Most people parrot their parents’ beliefs until they develop their own, but when the parent is a bully, not only does the child adopt the beliefs, but they learn how to bully. And that’s something they’re desperate for, to alleviate their own pain from being bullied, and as we all know, this is sometimes a lethal combination. There’s no way to weed out people who will be that kind of parent, but we can target the belief. As Ellen Degeneres said, when speaking about Lawrence King on her show, “When the message out there is that being gay is so horrible you can get killed for it, we need to change the message.” Ellen also spoke about the recent suicides on her show: “There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting.” Kathy Griffin posted a message on YouTube where she called out the homophobic politicians and public figures, saying “Remember trickle-down economics in the eighties? Well, this is just trickle-down homophobia.” I’ve cried over these suicides and I’ve looked at that picture of Lawrence King a million times, but I never forget Brandon. I never forget how both boys were failed by the system and fell through the cracks. That’s really key in all this, isn’t it? Never forgetting.
Brandon McInerney, left, Lawrence King, right.
So, as a final thought, I’d like to draw a little attention to some of the less prominent, but no less violent, anti-gay hate crimes that occurred, with the exception of the first, during the time between the murders of Matthew Shepard and Lawrence King.
WARNING: this is graphic stuff.
Michael Goucher, 21, murdered February 2009 in Pennsylvania. He was murdered by two teenagers who wrote graphic poetry detailing the murder afterwards, including the following lines: “Stabbed this mother (expletive), right into his neck and I stabbed him in the head, we checked but he started running, his (expletive) wasn't dead…the mother (expletive) started pleading, he was all light-headed cuz his throat was all bleeding."
Nireah Johnson, 17, murdered July 2003 in Indiana. She was on a double date with her friend and two men, who discovered she was biologically male by following her to the bathroom at the murderer’s home. Johnson and her friend Brandie Coleman, who had recently become a new mom, were then bound, driven to the woods, and shot in their car. After one of the assailants’ brothers called to alert him that he had seen the teens dead in their SUV, their murderer returned to the scene and set the car on fire.
Billy Jack Gaither, 39, murdered February 1999 in Alabama. He was beaten to death with an ax handle and then burned on a pyre of old tires. Testimony was given at trial that one of the assailants himself was gay, by a man who had engaged in sexual relations with him.
Gwen Araujo, 17, murdered October 2002 in Newark, California. She was beaten by four men, strangled to death, and buried because her attackers had found out she was transgendered. In some of the murderers’ trials, a trans panic defense was employed, wherein the accused claim temporary insanity because of unwanted sexual advances by a transgendered person.
Ryan Keith Skipper, 25, murdered March 2007 in Winter Haven, Florida. He was stabbed twenty times, his throat slit, and his body was dumped on the roadside. The killers then drove around him in his own car, bragging how they had killed a "faggot."
Pvt. Barry Winchell, 21, murdered July 1999 at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He was beaten with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier because he had begun to date a transgendered showgirl, Calpernia Addams, who is now one of the most well-known transgender activists in the movement. An internal report done by the Army concluded that the 101st Airborne, of which Winchell was part, did not suffer from an unacceptable degree of homophobia.
Ronnie Paris, just 3 years old, murdered January 2005 in Tampa, Florida. This boy was beaten to death by his father who was trying to "make Ronnie Antonio tough and to teach him to fight, because he did not want Ronnie Antonio Paris to grow up to be gay."
And for the teens who were so badly bullied that they lost hope: Asher Brown, 13, Billy Lucas, 15, Seth Walsh, 13, and Tyler Clementi, 18, my heart is with you.