Recently, a reader wrote to Dan Savage with the following suggestion:
I’ve decided to start saying “that’s Mormon” instead of “that’s gay” and encouraging my friends to do the same. It’s more accurate and plus it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.
- A Mormon kid in high school would wind up hearing “That’s Mormon” ten thousand times a day if your proposal caught on, LDS, while a Mormon adult would rarely if ever hear the expression.
- Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.
- And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.
- teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry
- So I will allow it.
How is this idea wrong? Let me count the ways:
#1. Are you against bullying? or are you simply against people you can relate to being bullied?
As I discussed in Is anti-bullying education possible?, it appears that a lot of bullying is a cultural phenomenon — and kids can learn not to do it. (Even if up until quite recently childhood bullying has been seen as inevitable in our culture.)
Sure, it’s easy to say to kids “Don’t bully this kid — that other kid is even more of a loser, bully him!” It’s hard to persuade kids just to leave less popular kids alone. But this is not a situation for doing what’s easy, it’s a situation for doing what’s right.
#2. “Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.”
As I said in the comments of my bullying education post, I think that having supportive parents makes a huge difference. However, it doesn’t turn bullying into a minor or trivial problem for the kid that gets bullied. I don’t think suicide rates should be the only measure of the harm of bullying, but, for example, some recent gay teen suicides I’ve read about were kids who actually had supportive parents, but killed themselves anyway.
#3. “it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.”
I’m sure that the blame for anti-gay bullying can be be placed squarely on the leaders of various churches, including on the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS. But, as noted above, those perpetrators aren’t the ones who will suffer if kids are bullied for Mormonism. And even if the Mormon kids themselves were entirely to blame, does that call for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? Is that the kind of ethics we want to teach our kids?
#4. “And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.”
Yep. And what do you think you get when you fight hate with more hate?
If there’s hostility between Mormons and gay people, we have nothing to gain by throwing fuel on that fire. And I can hardly think of anything more counter-productive than creating real evidence to back up the (usually ludicrus) claim that the Mormons are the victims in this struggle.
#5. “teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry”
This one is the closest one to being half-reasonable. But teachers have enough to deal with. And for the past century or two in the US, various authority figures have had a less-than-stellar record of keeping kids from bullying each other for all manner of things that kids should never be bullied for.
Personally, I recall being bullied for being nerdy and unpopular and for having various social problems, but not specifically for being Mormon. But others report having been bullied for being Mormon. That shouldn’t happen.
Young people across the board — including in the most socially conservative denominations — are dramatically more likely (than previous generations) to be accepting of their LGBTQ peers. This trend didn’t come about by gay kids picking fights with kids from religious families. It came from positive visibility. If the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS are teaching hateful messages, let’s reject the hate, and encourage kids to respond with reason and friendship and understanding instead.