By Charles Hallman
Southern Poverty Law Center battles bullying of gays
Bullying is a hate crime that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is dangerously on the rise nationwide.
Hate crimes against LGBT students and those persons perceived to be gay also have been on the rise: Over 84 percent get harassed at school, and 61 percent report feeling unsafe. However, over 62 percent don’t report abuse because they fear the situation would only worsen, while nearly 34 percent who did report their abuse said school staff did nothing in response.
At least four LGBT students who attended school in the Anoka-Hennepin school district have committed suicide in the past year alone.
Anti-bullying proponents say that LGBT students are four times more likely to think about or attempt suicide.
Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History was screened last week, November 9, at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. The SPLC-produced documentary film chronicles the story of Jamie Nabozny, who was tormented both in middle school and high school in a small Wisconsin town, and who later filed a federal lawsuit against the school district.
A jury found several school officials could be held accountable for not stopping anti-gay bullying, and the district paid Nabozny a $900,000 settlement. He, his parents and stepparents were among the packed house audience inside Central’s sanctuary to watch the film.
There are thousands of students like him who “suffer silent deaths” because of bullying, said Nabozny, who regularly speaks to youth groups of his painful experiences.
Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son took his own life this past July, also spoke to the crowd. “He was an easy target for bullies because he was gay,” said the mother. Aaberg added that it wasn’t until her son’s death that she learned what his life really was like at Anoka High School.
The SPLC plans to distribute Bullied free of charge to 50,000 schools nationwide, but the organization’s president, Richard Cohen, told the audience last week, “Schools aren’t the only place” where anti-gay bullying is occurring, but in “society at large.”
Ever since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, hate groups in this country have been on the rise: The SPLC counted at least 932 hate groups in the U.S. in 2009. Minnesota has nine of them, including four in the Twin Cities area.
The SPLC defines hate groups as persons with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people. Their activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings or publishing.
“There’s no doubt that there is a lot of racism in our country that has been exhibited since we’ve seen Obama as president,” SPLC Founder Morris Dees told the MSR after the film showing last week. “I don’t know if you can target hate crimes just to Blacks, but we’ve had hate crimes towards migrants, immigrants, anybody that’s different.”
“These three things combined — [a Black man in] the presidency, the economy, and the lack of immigration reform — has produced a tremendous spike in hate groups,” said SPLC Outreach Director Lecia Brooks. “You see this happening all over [the U.S.].”
“The fact that we are in such economic problems contributes to it, because it is a time of scapegoating,” added Cohen. Along with so-called traditional hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo-Nazis, the SPLC president noted that “mainstream hate” is now being practiced by “respectable folk” such as ministers, judges and other public officers. He included such national radio-talk-show notables as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other Fox News commentators among this group.
“There are people in our country, pundits and politicians, who make hay by vilifying others. They do it for ratings. They do it for votes. That’s sometimes worse than the guys in the pointy hats and sheets. It’s wrong whenever it happens,” said Cohen, who believes “America is too lenient” on these hate practitioners.
But Morris Dees is optimistic that things will improve nationwide. “I think that America always had two steps back and three steps forward. So we have to keep at it,” he concluded. “I have great hope for this country.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.