According to CNN, most Americans say religious messages are contributing to the bullying epidemic going on in America’s schools. Yesterday, NPR reached out to several people deeply touched by this subject, for a story on what role religion plays in bullying.
NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty spoke with recent high school graduate Justin Anderson, who was bullied throughout his years at Blaine High School outside Minneapolis. NPR interviewed Tammy Aaberg, the mother of Justin Aaberg, who committed suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying, and Sirdeaner Walker, whose 11-year-old son, Carl, committed suicide last year for the same reason. And Hagerty also reached out to…Tony Perkins?
Perkins took this opportunity to speak with NPR – not about the importance of loving all people equally, not about the need to stop all bullying behavior no matter who is targeted, but rather about how Tony Perkins is not to blame. Who is to blame, according to Perkins? The gay students themselves.
Tony Perkins, president of the evangelical Family Research Council, says gay activists are exploiting the concern over bullying — and twisting the facts.
"There's no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide," he says.
Rather, Perkins says, there is another factor that leads kids to kill themselves.
"These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict."
Homosexuality is "abnormal," he says, and kids know it, which leads them to despair. That's why he wants to confront gay activism in public schools. For example, his group supports the Day of Truth, when Christian high schoolers make their case that homosexuality is a sin.
This is not the first time that Perkins and the Family Research Council have tried to push the blame for anti-gay bullying away from themselves and onto gay people. And while Perkins does use different arguments (that often conflict with each other), he’s always fairly easily proven to be wrong.
Hagerty also spoke with Barb Anderson, who works for the Evangelical Minnesota Family Council.
"There is no confusion on this," says Barb Anderson, who works for the Minnesota Family Council, an evangelical group. "Any teacher can stop bullying in its tracks — and should."
Anderson says she deplores bullying. But she wants to keep the neutrality policy because she says that controversial topics like sexual orientation should be taught in the home or church — not in school. And she believes that changing the policy to allow such discussions is a ploy to normalize homosexuality for kids.
"It becomes homosexual advocacy when you allow this curriculum to come in under the guise of anti-bullying," she says.
Just a few weeks ago, Anderson’s boss, Tom Pritchard, put it even more bluntly.
Notwithstanding gay activist assertions to the contrary, people aren’t gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. by God’s design or nature. We are male and female with sexual expression designed for a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Denying or fighting against this reality is the reason alternative forms of sexual expression, whether homosexual or heterosexual, will put people at greater risk.
So NPR aired two mothers of children who committed suicide because of antigay bullying and “balanced”them with two organizations who want to blame the victims.
The other person featured in the piece was a third evangelical, Warren Throckmorton, who earlier this month created the Golden Rule Pledge to counter messages like those coming from Perkins and the Minnesota Family Council. Throckmorton said that Perkins is incorrect, because:
"The common element is not gay identification, the common element is anti-gay harassment. And so it isn't a matter of them being gay and unhappy. It's a matter of others tormenting them with gay slurs."
Still, NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty felt this story needed two sources from organizations that want to take the blame for these tragedies away from the bullies and put it onto the victims themselves. She felt this story needed the point of view of people who have devoted their lives to keeping protections and freedoms away from gay people.
NPR and the rest of the media need to realize that what our country needs right now is a discussion about bullying, not a debate. The country needs to hear from experts.
People who have experienced bullying.
Parents who have witnessed its effects on children.
Educators who struggle with how to stop it.
Counselors who help those who have been victimized by it.
Child psychologists who know what’s driving it.
The LAST people our country needs to hear from right now are the ones, like Perkins and the Minnesota Family Council, who are bringing absolutely nothing positive or productive to the table. NPR and other media outlets who give a platform to these anti-gay groups are handing over their credibility to voices that would, and should, have no credibility in this discussion. By pretending that Tony Perkins has any place in this dialogue, NPR and others are making the problem worse.