Monday, October 04, 2010

Bullying and Bigotry: Ginger Edition

One of the biggest stories in the news at the moment is a local one - concerning a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after being inadvertently 'outed' by his college roommate and having his intimate encounter with another man 'live broadcast' over the Internet.

The victim, Tyler Clementi*

It's a horrible story - and the outraged LGBT community has been quick to point out that it brings the total of gay or lesbian kids 'bullied' into killing themselves recently up to five; just weeks into the school year.

It highlights, they argue, a culture of homophobia and intolerance endemic in schools and colleges - one that must be combated by all means necessary.

I completely support them in this mission - but while we're at it, I'd like to use the case to raise awareness of an appallingly similar situation back home in Britain.

Nationally, we Brits tend to be a lot less intolerant of gays and lesbians, but we'd be giving ourselves a totally undeserved pat on the back if we thought that meant we're more 'tolerant' overall. (For 'totally undeserved pats on the back', feel free to start reading The Spectator.)

While Americans are raising awareness of LGBT students who killed themselves following abuse, could we Brits also raise awareness of poor 15-year old Adam Bailey - victim of intense bullying for having red hair - who ultimately hung himself?

Could we Brits start clamoring for justice for 19-year-old Andrew Vickers who committed suicide, after years of being bullied for having red hair?

In fact, I'd love the British versions of celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Lady Gaga go on television and demand an end to the sort of institutionalised discrimination that drove 11-year-old Kevin Chapmen to consider suicide, after being beaten in the streets and having anti-ginger slogans daubed on the walls of his home.

Instead, I've listened to British friends of mine dismiss once again my complaint that redheads in Britain suffer any form of discrimination - at all.

"I'm just being oversensitive," they tell me. "You have a chip on your shoulder," others complain. "Get a sense of humor!"

Maybe I don't feel like laughing; largely because I didn't have far to go to find those examples of redheads committing suicide in the UK. They died because they suffered a version of that same systematic, institutionalized abuse that drove the gay and lesbian students in America to kill themselves.

I'm not saying it's as bad - but I am saying it was bad enough to drive them to the same end.

The big difference between the suicides in the UK and USA, aside from the reason why the students were getting bullied in the first place, is that the American LGBT community (and moral people in general) are outraged by what's been allowed to happen - and are working together to stamp out intolerance in the classroom, dormitory and beyond.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the majority of people continue to deny there's even a problem in the first place - let alone do anything to solve it.

Another reason why Militant Ginger is proud to be ensconced stateside

* Who, coincidentally, appears to have red hair.


Little Rambling Angel. said...

I do agree with you. There does seem to be a stigma against people with red hair
I saw a movie last night that aimed jokes at red haired people.

Andy said...

Roland, I was following this pretty well until I got to DM's comment. That one lost me.

The story of Tyler Clementi is truly tragic. Whether he was gay, or straight, having one's privacy violated in such a public way might cause any of us (especially in our youth) enough angst to off ourselves.

We never do truly know the mental state of others. We do not know their inner struggles, nor what they are dealing with at the time.

I am one of the nicest people I've ever known. I know that sounds vain...but I really am a nice guy. I hate hurting others, even though I've had to be direct as an adult, and address people harshly for their stupidity, lax attitudes, stupid decisions, etc.

But, I never liked it.

When I was 6 years old, and in the First Grade, I joined in with a group of boys that were mocking one of our classmates, DeWayne Bullock (actually a boy from my church) because of the big metal brace he wore on his leg. We poked fun, and gathered around him in a circle, teasing, and calling him names.

He began to try to kick each of us with that big, stiff thing, and they (we) laughed all the harder because he could not navigate well, and his kicks were futile. I joined in until he finally fell red-faced from exhaustion, and we ran off.

His father died a few days later from cancer. That haunted me for decades. About two years ago (I am 51 years old, btw), I made an effort to contact him.

Through my parents, I got his mother's phone number. She was still living in a neighboring town. I called, and he answered the phone. He had moved back here from Houston to take care of his Mom (severe Alzheimer's), and his little brother...severely retarded, and only about 4 years younger than he and I(I remembered his little brother).

After a while of visiting, I opened up about that day, and asked his forgiveness. I knew it was wrong, and that feeling of "wrongness" had helped shape my compassion throughout most of my life.

Funny thing...he didn't even remember it. But, he thanked me for the apology anyway, and let me get it off my chest.

Man, that comment really ran off the road and cleaned out both the ditches, huh?

I guess what I'm getting at is that even the nicest of us can be cruel...and when we are cruel to the weak, we harm ourselves...often more than the object of our foolish cruelty.

I am quite sure that NONE of that is germane to Ginger Bigotry. But, if it helps...DeWayne Bullock was red headed.

Roland Hulme said...

Beautiful comment, Andy - thanks for sharing!