Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield recently displayed a profound misunderstanding of homosexuality in an interview, stating, “That bullying thing is the biggest lark out there …There are sexually confused children who could be pushed into a lifestyle that I don’t think is appropriate with them and it’s not for the norm for society, and they don't know how they can get back from that.”
This comment represents an antiquated way of addressing homosexuality in youths that should be – but isn’t – a dying breed: proof of how much further there is to go.
The senator went on to provide what he surely thought were comforting words to families who have lost homosexual teens to suicide. “I think a lot of times these young teens and young children, they find it very hard on themselves and unfortunately some of them commit suicide,” he said.
Campfield’s sentiment trivialized the issue of gay teen suicide, which claimed the lives of nine teenagers in a single Minnesota school district between 2009 and 2011. The national statistics are even more haunting. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center found that between 30 and 40 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer youth have attempted suicide.
Campfield’s statements are sadly not uncommon among Washington, D.C. leadership or even the nation at large. A July 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 48 percent of Americans support gay marriage while 44 percent oppose it.
Though public support has grown 9 percent since 2008, the nation is still essentially divided on the issue. That such outright bigotry can exist and be codified in federal law in 2012 is deplorable. What is truly objectionable, however, is the damning effect of such hatred on the lives of America’s youth.
A primary cause of LGBTQ suicide is bullying. According to findings by The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization focused on LGBTQ youth, 90 percent of LGBTQ students have been bullied, while the number for non-LGBTQ students is 62 percent.
Unfortunately, there is very little being done about this scourge. Efforts to quash bullying of LGBTQ students have been repeatedly targeted. In the aforementioned school district, a policy requiring faculty to remain “neutral” in matters involving sexual orientation, including students reporting bullying, was repealed in February 2012 only after several unsuccessful attempts.
Still, many teachers in this and other districts remain hesitant to intervene for fear of crossing boundaries between teachers and students. Take Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide in September 2010 after being bullied for his ethnicity, his attention deficit hyperactive disorder and the mere perception that he was gay. Court documents show that both the principal and vice principal had knowledge of Lucas’ harassment but failed to make any effort to protect him.
The stigma surrounding the LGBTQ community is nothing more than a remnant of an antiquated era being perpetuated by homophobic laws. That stigma, however, is a reason why some LGBTQ teenagers feel like outcasts. When the type of hateful rhetoric exemplified by Sen. Campfield surrounds them, it is natural that they feel targeted.
Hopefully the tide of public opinion continues to turn away from the hatred that permeates our nation’s present discussion on LGBTQ issues. Beyond that, public figures must stop speaking about these issues so flippantly. Words have power – ask any of the families that have lost a teen to suicide.