EDITORIAL: Peculiar Concerns in Bullying Debate
The 19th century scandal involving British poet and playwright Oscar Wilde gave rise to a quaint euphemism: "the love that dares not speak its name."
Though that veiled reference to homosexuality may have gone out of style with the Victorian age, the squeamish sentiment behind it seems to live on among certain lobbying groups in Raleigh.
The matter came up this past week as the North Carolina Senate debated an anti-bullying measure that would require school employees who witness harassment of students, or have information about such behavior, to report it to school authorities. (The Senate later gave narrow tentative approval to the measure, which next goes to the House, where supporters expect it to pass.)
Some opposed the whole idea on the grounds that it should be left up to local school officials. But others got hung up on the listing of reasons for which students might be harassed.
As it now stands, the bill includes more than a dozen such reasons, including race, religion or disability. But the inclusion of the terms "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" became a sticking point for conservative groups, who thought the law shouldn't dare speak the name of such factors out loud.
Make It Go Away?
What would motivate the individuals and groups in question to attempt to pressure the General Assembly into not even mentioning gay and lesbian status -- or false attribution of such status to individuals -- as possible motivations for bullying? Maybe they hoped that if we ignore the whole subject it will go away, though that never seems to have worked so far throughout human history.
The fact that harassment for such reasons exists was brought home vividly by the bill's supporters, who recounted recent incidents in Georgia, Ohio and Massachusetts in which boys committed suicide rather than endure further torment at the hands of bullying classmates.
In all the cases, the taunts included ugly words denoting homosexuality. In all three cases, the parents of these unfortunate kids complained that school officials knew about the problem and did nothing about it.
Hastening Gay Marriage?
In the Raleigh debate, the Family Council of North Carolina argued that leaving the gay designation in the bullying bill would set some kind of precedent. Specifically, they feared the action would result in expansion of the state's hate crime laws and anti-discrimination to include similar terminology.
Is there a problem with that?
Others opposing the language were the Christian Action League, which urged its members to bombard legislators with e-mails and phone calls, and two Catholic bishops, who warned their followers that the bill could somehow hasten the approval of same-sex marriages. Both stands seem extreme.
When it comes right down to it, we're not sure that the bill needed to detail the possible reasons for harassment at all. Bullying is bullying, whatever the twisted motivation.
But if there is to be such an official list, attempts to cleanse it of terms like "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" for religious reasons seem so perverse as to be downright Talibanesque.
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