Insignificant

When actress Ellen Page came out last month, several conservatives I know (and those I only know by association) posted comments that were really pretty mean. I read everything from “Ellen WHO???” to “who cares? Did another idiot celebrity really need to come out?”

First of all, if you have seen the movie “Inception” then you know exactly who Page is. If you haven’t seen that movie then you should be slapped silly. It’s amazing.

Second, it is unfortunate that it is still important for celebrities to come out of the closet.

In the last six years, I’ve run more calls than I can remember. I’m in public safety. I talk to a lot of different kinds of people. I’m not allowed to give details, but I have met a hell of a lot of people – teens and adults alike – who have battled depression second to the bullying they are dealing with for being gay or lesbian. I’ve talked to kids as young as 13 and adults as old as their mid-40’s who are still fighting to be accepted as human beings. Most of the kids haven’t even figured out whether they’re gay; some know they aren’t, but other kids (and sometimes even teachers) are bullying them because they simply appear to be gay.

Bullying takes many different forms. I was bullied for a lot of reasons. The fact that I was a huge tomboy was only one of those reasons. I have told my story before; I was the loser that other losers used to pick on and beat up. I was a tomboy, I was a girl who played guitar and bass, I was a science nerd, I was a history buff, I was terrible at sports, I was awkward, I just wasn’t cool enough…I was never good enough. I often still feel like I’m not good enough, but that is par for the course when you see the way I grew up.

The belief that I was a lesbian when I was a kid was one of the reasons I was bullied, though, and it was huge. Nowadays kids take school bullying home with them on their smartphones, where they endure a continuous stream of hate through Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other forums. I’ve talked to a lot of those kids. They’re afraid to tell their parents at least partially because they know the bullying will only get worse when they tattle. More than one kid has looked at me and asked, “did your parents hate you when you came out?”

No, they didn’t hate me. It wasn’t easy for them to accept at first, but they didn’t hate me. The first time a teenage boy sat in my ambulance and asked me to help him tell his parents because that was why he was sitting there with serious injuries from a beating, I wanted to disappear. How do you do that? How do I sit down with this kid in his hospital room, look his parents in the eye, and tell his crying mother that he needed to tell her something? Once I’ve said that, how do I stand there and mediate while he tells her something she probably never expected him to say because he was such a good religious boy?

Even the most well-meaning conservatives among my friends who are straight don’t understand how hard that can be. It took me months after my horrible self-realization to finally tell my parents. It’s still a stigma in society. It’s a stigma at home. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that Ellen Page is losing work because of her announcement, but a lot of actors and actresses in the past have watched their careers tank after admitting to the world that they were gay.

It took a lot of courage for Michael Sam to come out. It took a lot for Ellen Page. It took a lot for Chely Wright (who immediately saw her career as a top-ten country artist evaporate). It took courage because, even in a society where being openly gay is becoming normal, there is still enough stigma and enough bullying to make one’s life very difficult. Being true to oneself is important; when those around you decide that they can’t stand your true self, it can be devastating.

I look forward to the day when we won’t have to “come out” anymore. Until then, I will have a lot of respect for those who come out and tell the world that it’s normal for some. We’re still people. We’re still just like you, and we’re not insignificant.

Bad Guys Need Jobs, Too

I had no idea, but apparently the Obama Administration’s EEOC has almost completely re-written the rules. Just a year ago, the EEOC released a suggestion that employers stop refusing to hire minorities based on criminal records. Not white people, mind you – just the minorities. Because, you know, we live in post-racial America.

The “suggestion” is about to be enforced as a rule. Dollar General Stores and a BMW facility in SC are being sued for supposedly discriminating. One woman sued Dollar General for refusing to hire her based on a felony conviction; to be fair, the crime was attributed to her in error. But a lawsuit over it? The employer acted in good faith. It’s the background screening agency (and possibly the offending court) that should be sued, not Dollar General. The vast, overwhelming majority of companies out there these days hire other companies to do background checks for them. Dollar General isn’t responsible for falsely reporting that the applicant was convicted of a felony.

BMW, however, required in 2008 that all of their contract employees (not permanent employees, CONTRACT) re-apply for their jobs. That’s actually typical for contract positions – once the contract is up, if the company wants to extend new contracts or maybe even hire some of the workers on a permanent basis, they’ll ask them to re-apply. In the case of BMW, the workers who lost their jobs weren’t all black – but the black workers in the group complained that it was still a racist decision because a “disproportionate” number of those displaced were.

The EEOC has acknowledged the fact that the number of Americans with criminal records has gone up over the past several years, but they claim that because blacks and Hispanics get arrested and convicted more often, they deserve some kind of preferential treatment. I’m sorry…I’ve worked to maintain a clean background. I’ve never threatened to do harm to another person and the last time I stole anything I was 12 years old and I took a pack of baseball cards from another kid at school. I carry a gun, but I’ve never brandished it. The total of three fights I’ve been in as an adult were started by other people – and once the fight is over, I let it go. I never kick someone when they’re down. I haven’t been perfect, but I’m respectful towards others and mindful of the fact that innocent things can be taken horribly wrong. I conduct myself accordingly.

So how is it that someone else can get a free pass for their poor choices because their skin color is different?

All this is going to do is lessen the potential consequences for those at-risk groups. If they know they can sue and win over a job they were turned down for because of a criminal conviction, they’ll have even less incentive to obey the law and actually care about where their lives are going.

I once had a black woman I worked with scream racial epithets at me right before calling me a racist. In recent years, I’ve been called a racist by another coworker simply for referring to someone’s accent as “Nigerian”. I’ve been called a racist I don’t know how many times for disliking our President. I grew up with less than most black kids have today. My father served this country right after Vietnam, a time when most people still hated their defenders. Back then, enlisted salaries were a joke. You didn’t get a stipend for your wife or kids; you didn’t get extra pay for deploying. My father had to buy his own uniforms on the peanuts they paid him even with three kids to feed and clothe. Once I was in school, I was bullied, harassed and beaten up everywhere I went. Home wasn’t a happy place, either, because I was always the oddball. Even church was often a rough place for me when the kids who bullied me at school started going to my youth group. No matter where I have gone or what I have done, I have faced adversity – but I have still managed to get an education, be polite and respectful, and do something decent with my life. I have never done something to hurt another person and then turned around and blamed the way I grew up or the people who treated me badly.

Why does anybody get away with that? Why do we allow government agencies to put pressure on employers to forgive criminal pasts simply because the applicant isn’t white? The EEOC guidelines that are about to become the de facto law of the land will give people of color the ability to do something I’ll never get the chance to do: argue why they should get the job despite a felony conviction on their record.

Gone are the days when convicted felons worked their way back up the ladder in the real world. Now we live in a society where the government gets to decide that all companies have to pay a “living wage”, provide health insurance, and give jobs to minorities who can provide a compelling reason why their criminal past should be forgiven over the white woman who was willing to work hard for a decent life. Blacks and Hispanics can blame their idiotic choices – their CHOICES – on their hard life and get away with it.

Post-racial America.

Horsefeathers.

Stop Bullying!

A few months ago, I knocked back eight fingers of good scotch while writing quite possibly the most difficult post I have ever published. I described the hell that I live with every day, a perfect memory of having been bullied mercilessly as a kid. I remember all the things that everyone else gets to forget: being laughed at, spit on, beat up, and being used as fodder for everyone’s crude jokes. I didn’t mention the teachers who sometimes took part in the humiliation, but they certainly existed. I didn’t mention the difficult home life I had, either, that made it impossible to cope with everything. I originally wrote that post to make a point about a subject that continues to gain traction:

Despite what I’ve survived, I am completely against anti-bullying legislation.

Whenever some tragic event occurs, particularly a young teenager (or even younger) committing suicide because they’ve been bullied, everyone thinks that the only way to deal with it is to pass some kind of legislation to stop it from ever happening again. The anti-gun crowd (led mostly by the Brady Center Against Gun Violence) frequently quotes twisted statistics to prove that guns shouldn’t ever be in the hands of regular citizens; many would argue that making guns illegal will only make the problem worse by making the good guys in society sitting ducks for the ones who didn’t care to follow the law to begin with. When four people died in the space of three years (not exactly an extreme number in a nation of a few hundred million souls) after abusing ephedrine as a diet supplement, the FDA banned all OTC use of ephedrine.

Similarly, the parents of a handful of kids who have committed suicide after being bullied have attempted to convince their state legislatures that anti-bullying legislation is the best way to curb bullying in schools. I argue that it will only make things worse.

The law passed just one year ago in New Jersey actually makes it a crime for “innocent bystanders” to fail to report incidents of bullying to police whether on or off campus. I’m a highly-trained public safety professional. There are multiple mandatory reporting laws that apply to me, and there are times when even I have trouble sorting them out. How on Earth can the people of New Jersey expect children to understand that it’s a crime to fail to call the police when they see someone being bullied? There are kids who don’t realize that an incident may be bullying, so how can you hold them to that standard?

This year, Ohio passed a strong piece of anti-bullying legislation that goes so far as to label the types of bullying. In all the time I was bullied, I never held much difference between the guy hollering that idiotic question at me in the cafeteria (“are you a lesbian?”) day after day and the group of girls who made fun of me when I practiced the clarinet. It was all the same to me: other people being cruel because they wanted a laugh at my expense, something that was cheap. Why do we need laws to identify what kind of bullying a kid is experiencing? Could we make this just a little more complicated?

In July, just a few months ago, New York enacted the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). The NYSED’s web page says that DASA “seeks to provide the State‚Äôs public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.” The name of the bill and the description sound not only sanctimonious, but completely unfair.

You cannot ever promise a kid that they’ll never be bullied, taunted or harassed. It’s unfair because you can never stop other kids from exhibiting that kind of behavior. You’d first have to teach their parents how to raise those kids to respect other people. Considering how many child abuse cases I’ve seen while working in public safety, I’d wager that will be nigh impossible. Is it wrong to dismiss acts of bullying by simply saying “kids will be kids”? Yes, it is. It’s absolutely wrong. It is equally wrong to expect that kids are developed enough to understand advanced concepts such as “awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people.” I’ve met adults who don’t understand that kind of thing, and we want to pass laws that require teaching kids about it?

Pretty much all these laws do is make less sense of what bullying really is. One incident of a kid shoving another kid isn’t bullying, but it seems like these laws aim to teach that it is. The problem with it is that kids who haven’t developed enough mentally to understand advanced emotional concepts DO learn very quickly how to do the wrong thing in a way that won’t get them in trouble. It was the same problem I had when I was a kid. The bullies knew that if they left serious marks on me, taunted me in view of certain adults, or left some kind of trail, they were caught – they knew how to get around that. I knew that if I tattled they’d find a way to get revenge. Those people carry such self-taught lessons well into adulthood.

I think it’s great that people want to do something to address bullying. When your reaction to a sad story is, “we’ve gotta do something – quick, someone pass a law!”, you’re setting the whole thing up for failure. If you want to do something about bullying, then reform the education system first. Put serious emphasis on teachers who actually teach – take away the power of unions that protect teachers who don’t care. Stop the idea that harsh grading practices and criticism of any kind are unfair and actually focus on teaching the kids rather than helping them along. Stop zero-tolerance policies that hamstring kids who need to defend themselves from bullies.

Sometimes the simplest answers to our problems are the last ones we’d even consider because those solutions would make us uncomfortable. If we want to do something, we must first look at ourselves and see what we can change about us and the message that our actions send.

Adam Smith Spreads the Insanity

If I, a front-of-the-line public safety worker, were to film myself harassing someone and post it on YouTube, I would be fired from my job. Immediately. There would be no question. My neighbors and quite a few people in my city would recognize me immediately. Even those who may agree with my views would frown upon me behaving that way and would likely complain that a public servant – even one at the bottom of the food chain – had behaved so childishly.

You can imagine my stunned silence at the idea that so many would fail to understand why a chief financial officer, an executive employee, of a major medical supplier, would lose his job upon behaving exactly that way when he goes through the drive-thru and pitches a narcissistic fit at a very nice employee of Chick-Fil-A.

Take a look.

Adam Smith Rant

First of all, he’s practically bouncing in the car waiting to get to the window. You can tell he’s excited about what he’s about to do. On CFA Appreciation Day, he got in the drive-thru line, ordered a free water, then waited. Once he got close, he turned on his cell phone camera. He captured himself joking how “it tastes better when it’s full of hate” and hoping that a group of college-aged kids the next building over might be getting ready for a sit-in (for the record, none was reported that I know of, and this was in Tucson). Listening to this guy say “I think I might just say a few words, let’s see!” makes me gag. He knew exactly what he was going to do – that’s why he was filming himself.

He gets up there and as soon as he starts talking, he cements in our minds the fact that he had the whole thing planned, right down to what he was going to say. This was not impromptu. I’d be willing to bet he practiced it. He complains, “come on, I want my free water,” still fidgeting in his seat like a little kid about to sing for a talent show. He then unleashes a tirade on Rachel, telling her “I don’t know how you sleep at night” and repeatedly telling her she works for a hateful organization.

This is just about the most low-brow, juvenile thing a person can do.

If an EMT, firefighter or police officer had done something like that the public would have called for their head on a pike. For the record, Adam did film an “apology” video. Personally, I don’t believe most of what he says, especially when he excuses himself by claiming that certain passions could be turned around and used for gay rights. That was sick.

I do not, however, have any problem believing him when he says that he and his company, Vante, have received threats via voice mail and email. I’ve heard even some of those I consider perfectly sane do that kind of thing, both left and right. If I find that a single one of my friends has been involved in threatening Adam Smith, his family, and/or his former employer, I will out you for it. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. To those of you I don’t know who did that – stop it. You aren’t being a better person. Threats are never acceptable, no matter how angry you might get. Besides…I’d be willing to bet that at least a handful of you have screamed at me and treated me like dirt a time or two. Get off your self-made pedestal and fix that cranial-rectal inversion.

And Adam? If this is your idea of helping, please stop.

Ghosts

What I’m about to write is difficult to the point of being agonizing, but I think it’s still important, even if only a few people read it. Maybe sharing my experiences as a kid will help me find some modicum of peace. It’ll be a hell of a lot easier to write than it will be to say it out loud, regardless of who I’m talking to. Believe me…I’m sitting here with a glass of single-malt scotch as I write.

The whole world saw a video this week that stunned them. The video was of four junior high school students brutally mocking their 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein. They were so vicious in their taunts that they brought her to tears – then made fun of the fact that she was crying. The kid who shot the ten-minute video wanted to submit it to a Comedy Central show because he thought it was funny.

I got exactly a minute and a half into it and couldn’t watch anymore.

Less than one minute into that video, I was in tears. The things those kids were saying to Karen were almost identical to the things that my classmates used to say to me on the bus. When I was at CD Landolt Elementary in Houston, I walked to school every day. Bullies would target me and a couple of other kids on that route. Kids at school would make fun of the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I sang (a small group of girls liked my singing but even some of them were absolutely cruel about everything else). They’d ask me why I pulled my socks up to my knees. They’d ask me why I acted like a boy. They’d joke that I was going to have a sex-change operation and gave me disgusting tips on how to do it. Those were the nicer things they did – I was frequently pushed around, beat up, even spit on. I was 12 when Jared Close announced to everyone that I was such a loser that I’d give free blow jobs just to have a friend, then pantomimed the act. I had to ask my teacher what a blow job was. When we all went on to Webster Intermediate (which has since been sold to a private alternative school), it only got worse.

PE was always a nightmare. I still remember the far corner between bays of lockers where a chunk of concrete was missing from the floor. I remember it because I was tossed into that corner on multiple occasions. I still don’t know why some of the kids at school hated me so much. I don’t understand why Theresa Baylott would call “big girl!” out to me from across the quad in a dragged-out falsetto voice and later scream just inches from my face that she was going to tear my effing head off.

I don’t understand why the kids on the bus, many of whom I didn’t really know, always targeted me. My parents would tell me to ignore them, but the more I ignored them the worse the abuse got. I once tried to put my head back and pretend to be asleep, but they all roared and started making fun of my nose – one kid even sneaked up to me and stuck a pen up my nose. And, just as the kids in New York did to Karen, they’d tell me I was fat. They’d “joke” that I took up the whole seat. I tried to sit in the only single-seat bench on the bus to avoid having to sit with the bullies (who loved to sit down next to me, then throw themselves into the aisle and yell at me for being too fat). The funny thing was that I really wasn’t very overweight back then. They convinced me that I was, though.

In high school, there was a running joke among most of my classmates that my nickname was “O.G.” I never knew what it stood for; they tried to tell me it stood for “original gangster” but I was never into rap and they always said it when I did or said something that appeared or sounded masculine. The more “manly” my actions, the more I’d hear, “1-2-3, this is O.G.!” Eventually someone told me that I was right – it was their inside way of making fun of me for being too butch. Someone started a rumor that I was a Satanist despite my heavy involvement in church.

Oh, church. I was bullied there, too. In Houston, my family went to Grace Community Church. The building they used to own now belongs to another congregation (most people on the East Side would immediately recognize the huge red-brick and white-pillar building with the ginormous steeple). One kid from our neighborhood also went to church with us, and he and his friends treated me like dirt. Nathan Scott Hutchison may never be forgiven in my mind for the things he did to me. His mother thought he did no wrong and no amount of challenging by other parents in the neighborhood ever convinced her that he really was a violent bully. He’d beat me to a pulp and then lie to my mother and tell her that I started it – when my mother would keep me home from church, he’d go and brag to everyone in our youth group that he’d beaten me up.

Church didn’t change until my family moved to Louisiana. Church in DeRidder didn’t change the fact that I was bullied at school, though. I just had actual friends for the first time in my life who I could stay close to so I didn’t get beaten up as often. Not that it stopped jocks in the hallway from picking me up and bodily throwing me into the lockers. Demopolis, Alabama was only marginally better, and I think only because everyone liked the fact that I could play guitar. There I had classmates calling me “church lady” after a character on Saturday Night Live. Pretty soon, though, they also started calling me “Pat”, also after a character on SNL. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show so I had no idea what it meant; someone told me it was a sketch about a character who never said if she was a man or a woman. Years later, when I finally did see a Pat sketch, I was horrified. I can’t watch anything on SNL now.

Seeing Karen Klein reduced to tears as the kids on that bus tormented her brought all of that rushing back as if it were yesterday. I’m one of those freaks who remembers every detail of everything; I can’t forget this crap no matter how hard I try. I can barely scratch the surface of the things that were said and done to me as a kid because most of it doesn’t bear repeating in polite company. There are a few facts that strike me, though, every time I go over this stuff in my head. First of all, not one of the kids who bullied me based their abuse on anything in the Bible. The kids who would walk up to me in the cafeteria and loudly ask, “are you a lesbian?” so everyone could hear didn’t go to church. They were just bullying me because I was different. When I was that age, even if you knew you were gay you did not admit it. Doing so invited disaster. The kids who bullied me at church weren’t Christians, they just had parents who either didn’t believe their kids were bullies or didn’t care. Not one of the punches, kicks, gobs of saliva or hurtful words I ever took was delivered by a person who believed it was their Christian duty to do it.

The bullying didn’t stop when I reached adulthood. I was working as a corrections officer for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections when I finally came to the realization that I was gay (something I staunchly denied all my life up until about age 24). I was just hitting that depression when my unit got a new lieutenant – a former sergeant named Paul Rivas. This guy had serious anger management issues, to the point that he would yell and throw things at the drop of a hat when things didn’t go his way. I was his target. When something went wrong, I was always to blame. One night, I was the only officer on my unit and I had been tasked with entering incident reports into the computer (never mind the fact that I still had to do rounds and make sure all the delinquents were sleeping and not attempting rape or suicide). The system was down, so I was never able to get it done. When he arrived the next morning to find the reports still sitting in the bin on his desk, he pulled me into his office and ripped me a new one at the top of his lungs. He didn’t want to hear about the system issues. After screaming at me for ten minutes about how completely inept I was, he told me that he would get rid of me the next time I failed. Trying to tell his boss, Lorene Petta, about the situation changed nothing.

It was Rivas’ bullying that pushed me over the edge. I was already in my own private hell over the dichotomy of being a lifelong Christian who was a lesbian. Rivas had me convinced that I was useless as an officer and that I was going to lose my career. I couldn’t handle the fact that, from childhood to age 24, I had been a complete loser; now, as a grown woman, I still couldn’t do anything right. One day in November of that year, I put my gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The round never discharged. I immediately told a couple of fellow officers who helped me check into a hospital. I never did tell them just how close I had come to killing myself. Dr. Petta, Lt. Rivas and the assistant director used their knowledge of what I’d been through (limited as it was, since it was another officer who told them) to fire me. I later went back to corrections with a very different perspective on things.

While I refuse to be a victim – I refuse to play the specialty card to get what I want – those experiences still haunt me. I’m still hurt by all of that. I’ve never revealed the details until now, but they have always been with me. Unless I live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s, they’ll always be with me. I still feel like a loser, even now. I hate that I feel that way, but I don’t know how else to feel. I still feel like that kid who wanted to be part of the in-crowd and is being humiliated in the attempt. It has kept going that way. After my parents divorced, I stayed with my mom to try to help her out but I had to move on at some point; in 2005, I moved out on my own. I met another lesbian who had bought a home and needed a roommate because she and her girlfriend were about to break up. She was a very attractive girl and we became very fast friends, but it didn’t last. When she eventually told me she didn’t want me in her life anymore, several years after I’d moved out of her house, the only reasons she was able to give me were very superficial – the way I dressed, the music I liked, the fact that I was too butch.

I rarely, if ever, let anyone new in now. I feel as though I have been useless my entire life. I’m no angel…a long time ago, I was an honest-to-god pious little jackass. I would never try to blame my actions on my childhood because no matter what I went through, I still knew right from wrong. I don’t think I ever deserved to feel the way I do now, though. I don’t deserve to fear that everyone around me is secretly thinking about how much they can’t stand me. I don’t deserve to be afraid to go out and meet people because I don’t believe I’ll ever feel worthy of being loved. I sure as hell don’t deserve to hope that I’ll get the chance to die in some heroic act so my life will make sense to somebody.

The kind of people who say that bullying is no big deal have never had to wake up with those ghosts.

In The Words Of A Survivor

Matt Epling, from what I can see, looked like a decent, happy kid. According to his father he loved everyone around him and did his best to help other kids at school. Then, one day in the summer of 2002, Matt was apparently leaving work when he was set upon and assaulted in some type of hazing incident. Matt wasn’t seriously hurt but the experience was humiliating – so much so that, 40 days later, just before he was supposed to give a statement to police about the incident, he took his own life. He was 14 years old. He had reportedly been threatened by the kids who hazed him and the authorities had been hesitant to get involved.

Today I got an email from Change.org. Mostly I like to stay informed on what other sides of different issues are saying. Here was the body of that email:

“When Katy Butler was in junior high, bullies who called her a “dyke” slammed a locker door on her hand. Katy never reported the assault because she was afraid her school wouldn’t do anything to help.

If the Michigan state Senate has its way, Katy’s school won’t have to help students bullied in the future, either.

Last week, the Michigan state Senate passed an anti-bullying bill. But minutes before they voted, Republican lawmakers inserted special language into the bill to create a huge loophole: Bullying done because of a “sincerely held religious or moral conviction” isn’t covered by the law.

Rather than protecting students, the new law actually provides a road map that teaches kids how to bully — and how to get away with it.”

On its face, this is enough to anger anyone. They’re making this into an anti-gay bullying issue, and the MSM has happily followed that narrative. It doesn’t even mention Matt or his parents, nor does it give the name of the bill that was passed. All you see in the email (this is common with Change.org) is a story meant to make your blood boil. No facts and figures, no links to news sources, just a story, one given a great deal of spin.

The reality is, however, that not only was the anti-bullying measure in Michigan – known as “Matt’s Safe School Law” – short and succinct, but the claims from Change.org and Democratic leaders in the Michigan House of Representatives are patently false. Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, echoed Michigan representative Gretchen Whitmer in a very emotionally-charged attack on the phrase that was added to the bill to get it to pass.

You can see the bill in its entirety here. It isn’t long at all. It defines bullying essentially as abusive behavior targeted at one or more students, requires all school districts to adopt policies specific to stopping bullying (as well as false accusations of bullying), and makes clear that there is to be no retaliation allowed. Pretty clear-cut, right? The problem here is that, even in its definition of bullying, there is still a pretty gray area. Different people would define certain situations in different ways. What I consider bullying may be very different from what you consider bullying. I, however, actually WAS bullied all throughout my childhood, so I have a bit of a different perspective. I have even been bullied as an adult in places where I worked. I see the answer to this issue being very, very different from what is going on right now.

We already have laws in place that address instances of serious bullying. Harassment, assault, battery, threatening and intimidation – all of these things are illegal and can result in serious criminal charges. I can tell you right now that the ambiguous nature of these new anti-bullying laws is only going to make a bigger mess of things.

There is not one single law that could have stopped any of the bullying I endured as a kid. Legally, the schools had no power over anything that happened off campus. If the internet had been around back then the torment never would have ended. Today, however, there are also laws that didn’t apply when I was a kid. Nobody would have dreamed of having a group of kids arrested and charged with harassment for bullying when I was Matt’s age, but now it can happen and it should. If there is a group of kids deliberately targeting a classmate simply for the sport of torturing another human being, then yes, bring them up on charges – on laws that we already have on the books.

So what is the big hubbub about the law right now? It’s a provision that was added by MI House Republicans. Scroll down to section 8 and you’ll see this: “This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”

I can tell you exactly what that section is meant for, but the liberals are deliberately spinning it as a heartless move on the part of conservatives in order to get it removed and shame people who don’t deserve to be shamed. The phrase is meant to protect those who are religious, particularly Christians and Catholics, from accusations of bullying simply for stating their belief that pre-marital sex and homosexuality are wrong. The concern that this law could be applied to such circumstances is not without merit. Just last month, 14-year-old Dakota Ary was suspended after saying during a discussion in his German class that, as a Christian, he believed homosexuality to be a sin. He didn’t announce it to the whole class; he merely said it as an aside to a classmate behind him. The teacher, who had introduced homosexual issues to a completely unrelated class before, blew a gasket, wrote Dakota up and had him suspended (the teacher, Kristopher Franks, has told a different story, one that I question).

If I were to wear a gay pride shirt to a college class, nobody would think anything of it; if one of my classmates wore a straight pride shirt to the same class, everyone would be outraged. That has been done before, too, in Minneapolis and recently in Chicago. People complain that such messages “may be perceived as hurtful.” I’m sorry, but you are going to hear things in life that you will disagree with, and you may find some of those things hurtful, but you do not need a law to protect your feelings. People will, in your adult years, say far worse things to you than anyone you went to school with said. I’ve had people I worked with make fun of me, circulate inappropriate emails about me, threaten me, and they rarely – if ever – get disciplined. I promise, though, if I had ever made mention of any religious belief, I would have been disciplined so fast my head would be spinning. Yes, there is a reason why they wanted that language in that bill.

The thing that irritates me the most about that email and the public statements disparaging that simple phrase in the bill is that it deliberately misleads people to believe that religious belief alone will justify physical abuse. Nothing could possibly justify assault and hateful slurs. It is a roundabout way of lying so that you can trick people who don’t pay attention to the facts into following you. It is 100% wrong.

I have news for you, Rep. Whitmer: even without the language, this bill would not save a single life. The only way you’re going to save a kid from committing suicide is to be deeply involved in every aspect of their life. Don’t give them too much privacy; read their text messages, blogs and emails. Use parental blocks. Know where they are at all times. Teenagers are not little adults. They’re still kids. Their brains are still developing, their hormones are trying to balance themselves, and they’re trying to find their place in the world around them.

It is a tragedy that any kid would commit suicide because they felt they had no support from classmates and the harassment was just too much. I am not for one moment downplaying the intense grief that the Epling family is still experiencing and will struggle with for the rest of their lives. Grief, sadness and anger, however, do not give a person license to twist the truth. The phrase added to that bill has been called “a how-to guide for bullying”. Such untruths are just as intolerant and tragic as the lies told by bullies to justify their behavior. As a survivor, I’m ashamed that this is the game being played.

The Forgotten Principle

This Sunday, we’ll mark ten years since 9/11. Ten years since 2,977 innocent souls, including 343 firefighters and 60 police officers, lost their lives in a breathtaking terrorist attack that we still haven’t recovered from. 13 more later succumbed to their injuries, bringing the total death toll to 2,998 – a number that should be raised as more first responders die of various cancers they’ve developed after breathing the toxic ash at Ground Zero. Ten years since even the hardest of us openly wept at the incredible loss of life. Ten years since 19 animals used their ultimate faith in jihad to prove that America is not untouchable.

In the weeks following the attacks, people rallied to prove we were better than the terrorists. We gave blood, donated water and food, posted pictures of those who were unaccounted for, and mourned for every set of remains carried out of the burning pit draped with Old Glory. Incredibly, we were nicer. We were nicer to our families and friends, nicer to the people who serve us, even nicer to other people on the road.

How quickly we forget.

About six months after the attacks – we’d already invaded Afghanistan by that time – I read a blog post that broke my heart. An Army wife, pregnant, crying child in tow, was writing about an unbelievable experience at a grocery store. Her husband was among those deployed to Afghanistan. She badly needed a few items, so she gathered what she needed quickly and ran to the express lane. During checkout she discovered she was one item over the limit. According to the post, the people behind her immediately lost their patience and began complaining loudly. The cashier offered no solution, only telling her she needed to go to another lane. At the end of her rope, the poor woman ran from the store, leaving her groceries unchecked. She wondered how we could have all gone to caring about our fellow man right after 9/11 to scolding a woman in a grocery store over something as simple as an item limit.

It never ceases to amaze me the way people will treat others sometimes. Those who consider themselves middle- or even upper-class can be outrageously mean. I cannot say who I work for, but in my main job I investigate fraud for a major financial institution. I talk to people all day long. Occasionally, a customer encounters difficulty using their account because of our attempts to stop fraud before it starts, and I’d say at least 75% of the time they’re typically civil. Today, however, I had people screaming epithets, insults and profanities at me over being stopped.

I left work feeling completely defeated. I didn’t do anything wrong, but people occasionally hear what they want to hear (as opposed to what’s actually being said), misinterpret what’s being said, and demand the impossible. When that happens and someone finds out that they’re not going to get what they want, they will revert to pitching a fit like a two-year-old (one with a far more extensive vocabulary). Today I was called names that I wouldn’t call another person myself even if I were enraged. They don’t understand that I can’t tell them why we might be suspicious of a charge being made; if we give that information out, the bad guys will use it to improve on how they get away with fraud. Yes, we will protect ourselves – your interest rates and annual fees are all part of the fraud prevention system, and the more the financial industry loses, the higher your rates will go. Fraud drives up the cost of all goods and services. So screaming that you’ve been inconvenienced and it’s not fair is actually self-defeating because that very system protects you in ways you will never understand.

As we come up to the ten-year anniversary of the defining moment of my generation, I hear these people losing their cool over things that aren’t worth it and mistreating me and my colleagues and I wonder what must go through their minds. I also wonder if they’d still behave that way if they knew who they were talking to.

If you knew the young woman you were talking to was a military widow, would you still call her a bitch?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to had a titanium leg in place of the one he lost while serving in the Marines in Iraq, would you still tell him to go to hell?

If you knew that the older gentleman you were talking to was a WWII veteran who’d been awarded the Navy Cross and two purple hearts, would you still tell him he was incompetent?

If you knew that the young woman you were talking to had lost an eye to a roadside bomb in Iraq, would you still call her a f—ing c–t?

If you knew that the young man you were talking to was in the US Army Reserves and had just come back to work after his third tour of duty in the Big Sandbox and he came home this time with shrapnel in his hip, would you still call him a pu–y and a dumb MF’er? Is a single moment of inconvenience and perceived embarrassment really worth abusing a man who fought so hard for you?

I’m not making any of that up. It makes my adrenaline surge and my hands shake when someone talks to me that way because when a person gets that way with me in my other job, it means they’re about to get violent; it’s a response that I can’t turn off. When I hear the people I know and deeply respect being abused by people who are angry about not getting their way, knowing what those friends have survived, it makes me absolutely furious.

This year, don’t just volunteer. Think long and hard about the way you treat your fellow man. Convenience is not a right – it is something that countless men and women have fought to give America the ability to provide. Don’t let respect become the forgotten principle. If you can’t imagine someone else talking to you that way, don’t do it to someone else – regardless of how inconvenient the situation is.

Civil Discourse

Social events in our country over the past year have driven many to clamor for a new form of civility – the University of Arizona even founded a National Institute for Civil Discourse in the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and five other innocent souls in Tucson (the home of U of A). The suicides of multiple young kids after months – sometimes years – of gay-related bullying (even when those kids weren’t gay) brought on a fresh round of cries for people to start caring and lawmakers to pass anti-bullying and hate-crimes legislation.

Our actions, however, tell a different story.

It amazes me that liberals are usually the first ones to squeal about the horrors of bullying and hate crimes because it is often those identifying as liberals who display the most hatred and ignorance (see my post on Nazi comparisons for further extensions). I can’t get used to it because they continually lie about wanting society to do better. They clamor to end all religious influence over society yet when asked why human beings are basically good, they have no response. They insist on teaching that we humans are essentially just highly-evolved animals, but they believe that we’re somehow better than animals…all on our own. There is no God, and my faith is culturally unacceptable, but human beings are supposed to be better than other animals?

It’s no wonder that our society displays so much hatred and ignorance. On April 18, an unbelievable display of such wanton emotion was captured on cell phone video in a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore. According to multiple news sources, a 22-year-old woman was attacked in or near the bathroom by two girls, one 14, the other 18. The two attackers showed open hostility to everyone who tried to intervene – and even after leaving the restaurant TWICE, they came back to beat their victim again. The third attack had the suspects ripping the victim’s wig off and dragging her by her hair to the door while an older woman with more balls than the male manager tried to stop them. Incredibly, the two girls assaulted the older woman as well.

The video carries on for more than three minutes. What’s more, the incident was caught on a cell phone camera owned by none other than Vernon Hackett, an employee of the restaurant, and the video catches him and a fellow employee laughing hysterically at the violence. The manager is caught doing nothing more than yelling “stop!” at the two thugs – he didn’t even reprimand his employees for taping and laughing at the fight. He never even tried to stop them. At the end, the victim is left having a seizure on the floor, chunks of hair litter the floor, and the aspiring filmographer warns the suspects to get away because the police have been called.

This isn’t the first time that a video of a pile-on beating has been posted to the internet, but coming on the heels of all these calls for civility and concern for bullying victims, the fact that such an incident could not only occur but go viral online is astounding. It gets even worse from here…multiple sources, including the local ABC affiliate linked above and LGBTQ Nation, are reporting that the unnamed victim was a transgendered female…and the attack was over the fact that she was trying to use the women’s latrine.

Personally, I believe that if you’re transgendered but still genetically the gender you were at birth, you should use the corresponding facility for the corresponding plumbing. If businesses want to install unisex bathrooms, fantastic; that is their decision. Whatever your belief, however, there is no excuse whatsoever to react violently and then try to excuse your outrageous behavior by pointing out your victim’s perceived character flaws. I’ll tell you right now, if I had been there and had witnessed that scene firsthand, neither of those two girls would have left that establishment in one piece. Regardless of what I think I would have stood up for their victim and use the gifts the Good Lord gave me to do so. I might have even turned on Hackett and just said, “oops…sorry!” afterward.

I’ve also got good money that says every one of the employees and perpetrators involved is an Obama fan. If this is what they call hope and change, they can keep it.

If you want a good look at just how “civil” liberals are, take a look at the vicious attacks on Sarah Palin over her son Trig. A Wonkette writer recently attacked Trig himself, saying, “what’s he dreaming about? Nothing. He’s retarded.” (It’s worth pointing out that so many conservatives were rightly outraged that Wonkette deleted the post…h/t to Steven Crowder for the info). Worse yet, “comedian” Louis CK went on the Opie & Anthony Show and verbally assaulted “that baby that came out of her disgusting c–t” and flayed her for mentioning the difficulties of raising a Downs Syndrome child, continuing to say, “this is hard? It’s a baby, put your tit in its mouth!” The commenters, which include the user who posted the clip, are just as evil – and the singular comment I posted garnered six positive marks, yet the poster removed it. I guess he’s too much of a coward to face the same criticism he offers.

Liberals embody the very same intolerance they attack conservatives for. Somehow they manage to exalt themselves whenever another teenager commits suicide by claiming that it’s all the fault of conservatives. I have news for you, folks…our society will never grow up as long as this kind of thing is acceptable. As long as teenagers watch the adults in this country launch personal attacks against politicians like Sarah Palin, liberal commenters bully conservatives into submission with accusations of racism and intolerance, teen-mom reality “stars” caught on video beating their baby daddies and ex-friends, and trans-phobic beatdowns at McDonalds, kids will keep getting the message that bullying is perfectly acceptable, and the more shock value you garner the more popular you become.

Civil discourse is beginning to look an awful lot like gang rape.

Casey the Hero

I frequently see friends of my 14-year-old stepsister using words like “fagget” (yes, they spell it that way), “gay”, “homo”, and other gay slurs to describe people they don’t like. That is no different than it was when I was a kid. I was called all of those things – beginning in third grade at Walter Jackson elementary school. I’ll never forget the first time I was called the F-word and how my teacher did absolutely nothing about it. From there it was all downhill. I was cornered, smacked around, beaten up, tossed into lockers, dropped from elevated walkways and stairwells…you name it, I took it. It wasn’t just at school, either. Nathan Hutchison lived down the street from me AND went to church with me. He once beat me until I was covered in bleeding welts. Danny Sugasti first went to school with me then started going to my church because his girlfriend went there. “Faggot” was his favorite name for me. Theresa Baylott cornered me in the locker room more than once to beat me up – and she rode the bus with me, too. Her favorite thing to do was call me “big girrrrrl” in the most annoying, nasal voice she could muster from across whatever space she saw me from. I had bigger boobs than most every white girl in school, so she made fun of me for it. Ginger Bailey had science with me; she’d make a face and go, “ewwwww!” when I walked into the room. Eugene Klimczak also called me a faggot – he also called me dyke, queer, and a host of other gay slurs that I didn’t understand in jr. high school. He, too, cornered me and beat me up on more than one occasion.

I never fought back because I was deathly afraid of what my parents would do if I were caught fighting. The idea of self-defense didn’t even cross my mind, even though back then teachers did discern between fighting and self-defense. My parents were against any form of violence. It was made well known in our home that if any of us were suspended for fighting, we’d be in a hell of a lot of trouble. I never fought back because I was more afraid of the fallout at home. Both issues made my life a misery that a select few share with each other once they reach adulthood.

Recently I saw a video that has gone viral: young Casey Heynes, a 10th-year student in Australia, fighting back against a younger boy who was bullying him. Here’s Casey talking about the incident, along with the clip in question:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sKA5LTRECIw&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2FsKA5LTRECIw&has_verified=1]

Seeing Casey pick that kid up and slam him back to the ground to stop the abuse took me back to the days when I was being treated that way, outnumbered and surrounded, wishing I had a way out – and imagining myself doing exactly what he did.

Amazingly, Ritchard Gale – the bully – claims that Casey started it all:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4ODGW72woQ&feature=related]

I have no illusions that Ritchard will actually read this, but if he does, he’s going to get his first lesson in reality. People can tell when you’re lying your ass off, buddy.

First of all, in the original clip, it is obvious who started it. Casey had no friends with him. In fact, he was surrounded by Ritchard’s friends, one of whom filmed it with a cell phone. Ritchard’s friends were spurring the incident on and laughing. And when Casey finally put a stop to it, one of Ritchard’s bigger friends stepped up and threatened Casey. Casey, unlike Ritchard, walked away once it was over. Those aren’t the actions of an instigator. Consider, too, that Ritchard was taunting Casey by dancing around him. That is what a bully does.

Remember the first kid I mentioned – Nathan Hutchison? His mother thought his shit didn’t stink. She believed everything that came out of his mouth. He would bully my brother and I and turn around and tell his mother that WE were picking on HIM. The day he severely beat me (he did so with an industrial-strength blueprint mailing tube), he claimed to my mother that I’d “nailed” him in the chin (which I hadn’t done). HIS mother believed him and told me to my face that I deserved what he’d done. The only problem was all of the other neighborhood kids who tried to tell her he was lying. She still believed him. Were I to meet him today, I would likely do exactly what he claimed I did back in 1991 – nail him. Today, though, I’d hit him hard enough to shatter his jaw.

Ritchard Gale’s father may not accept it, but his kid is a bully. Claiming that Casey abused him first is exactly what bullies do when they’re caught…they try to lay the blame on their victim for starting it, thus taking the full weight of the trouble off of them. I can only hope that school administrators see it that way. And if Casey ever has to defend himself again, I hope he shows the same courage that he did that day.

I’m in my thirties now and I will forever wish I had when I was his age. I’m now quite well-versed in Shaolin gongfu and Krav Maga and wouldn’t tolerate being abused. I’m just eighteen years too late.

You’ll Never Know

Two very highly talented musicians, Brian Sizensky and Vera Hadzi, got together to write an incredible song in tribute to Phoebe Prince, the Irish immigrant who committed suicide after being mercilessly tormented by bullies at her high school. I blogged about it earlier this year and Brian tried to post the link in the comments, but the settings (for some reason, I just checked and they’re not set to stop HTML links) stopped it from posting.

It’s a gorgeous song with poignant lyrics (to me, lyrics are every bit as important as the music itself, so whenever I post a song here or allow someone else to, pay close attention to the lyrics). Take a listen then scoot on over to the YouTube page and rate and comment.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db-1_W7Q2fk&feature=player_embedded]