Last week media reported on various aspects of the Value Voters Summit, a yearly forum for ultra-conservatives. Last year, the summit made headlines for its wares depicting then presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype.
This year one of the more alarming things to come out of the summit happened during a breakout session titled “The New Masculinity,” which brought speakers together to discuss “principles and ideals for a new masculinism.” During this session, the final speaker, Michael Schwartz, Sen. Tom Colburn’s (R-Okla.) Chief of Staff, made this statement:
“But it is my observation that boys at that age [10 – 12 years of age] have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuals. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct. After all, homosexuality, we know, studies have been done by the National Institute of Health to try to prove that it’s genetic and all those studies have proved its not genetic. Homosexuality is inflicted on people.”
Just days later, The New York Times published an article online titled Coming Out in Middle School, which also appeared in the New York Times Magazine. The article profiles several gay and bisexual youth from across the country, some of whom live in Oklahoma. Though the article’s subjects came out in middle school, two report being aware of their sexual orientations earlier, at age ten and eleven. The article also references studies that put the mean age for recognizing same-sex attraction at age ten.
In response to Schwartz’s remarks, Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN), who is also quoted in the Times article, penned a piece that was published in the Huffington Post, titled Colliding Realities In America’s Middle Schools.
Byard delivers a cautionary tale, urging readers to consider:
“…the clash of those two realities--10-year-olds intolerant of gay people and 10-year-olds realizing they are gay--playing out in both hidden and public ways every day in school hallways.”
She goes on to quote stark statistics from the recently released GLSEN Research brief:
“The brief reveals that middle school LGBT students reported rates of harassment and assault that were significantly higher than those reported by high school LGBT students: more middle school students had been verbally harassed, and a shocking 63% had heard homophobic remarks made by school staff. About two of every five LGBT middle school students had been assaulted - punched, kicked or threatened with a weapon - at school, as compared to "only" one in five of the high school respondents.”
This information is stark indeed and bears ill portent if Schwartz’s remarks are left unchecked by the media. His statements very clearly reinforce and even encourage homophobia in youth who are already, according to GLSEN’s data, committing acts of harassment and violence against their LGBT peers more frequently in middle school than high school.
During the course of his speech, where he addressed what men who are already good husbands and fathers can do to change the culture, Schwartz noted:
“If you don’t have love in you life it’s not a very complete life and yet we fail to talk about it to our sons and to their friends. They’re the ones that need to hear it the most.”
Perhaps someone ought to remind him that LGBT youth are deserving of that same love, acceptance and familial support, and that includes a life free from fear of harassment and violence.