It appears as though state House Republicans are coming to the rescue, literally and thankfully, after the state Senate GOP Caucus decided intentionally or unintentionally that it’s hunky-dory to turn a blind eye to bullying without repercussion for the perpetrator if that person — a student, or outrageously, a school employee or volunteer, or even a parent or guardian — has “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” That should translate to readers as follows: “Psst… Here’s a way to torment gay kids without having to worry about being punished for it.” We’re thrilled that House Republicans seem to have enough wherewithal to fend off the Religious Right — although whether the move is part of a larger political calculus or a genuine moral compass, the jury is still out for us — to scuttle the language in question in Senate Bill (SB) 137, but we’re still incensed that the two state senators representing west Oakland County could cast a “yes” vote on it in the first place.
Rare are the times, as journalists, we are left fuming — but we were irate about this. We don’t believe state Sens. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) and David Robertson (R-Waterford) are anti-gay or homophobic. We endorsed them for their current seats last year and don’t regret that decision. By and large, they’ve represented their districts well in the nearly 10 months since they took office in January.
This, however, is an exception — and, in our opinion, a flagrant one. We hope it was merely an oversight on their part.
We asked Robertson and Kowall point-blank: “What if someone says ‘God hates fags’ or ‘You’re going to Hell because you’re gay’ to a student. Is that protected under this bill, Senator?” While both rightly and admirably said such anti-gay language has no place in schools — Robertson even seemed shocked by the question — those are precisely the utterances that could feasibly occur without those who said them having to face so much as a raised voice as punishment if SB 137 is enacted in its current form.
And neither lawmaker directly answered the question. That may play well in some Republican voting blocs (we’re not naïve, and it’s likely fait accompli), but it doesn’t with us nor should it with anyone with any semblance of compassion.
Intentionally or not, Kowall, Robertson and their Senate GOP breatheren are, with their vote last week, driving in the northbound lane going south. Suicides among gay teens — and, horrifically, even pre-teens — as a result of bullying are up. According to the It Gets Better Project, 90 percent are bullied or harassed by their peers and an astonishing one-third have attempted to kill themselves. The scorn those students face for their sexuality each and every day is, as it has been called, the last accepted form of bigotry. And the Michigan Senate wants to codify it into state law — or at least provide a gray area in statute that would give bullies what essentially amounts to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. That is unacceptable, even if the Senate GOP committed an oversight at best or, at worst, doesn’t care.
Not to mention, all this goes without saying that the following instances of bullying could take place under the bill as currently drafted without repercussion:
• A Christian student could bully a Jewish student for being of the same faith as those who crucified Jesus Christ;
• A Muslim student could bully a Christian, Jewish, agnostic, or atheist student for being an “infidel”; or
• A pregnant teenage girl could be bullied for having an abortion or, for that matter, choosing not to, based on “deeply held moral convictions.”
But we don’t suspect those possibilities came up during discussion of the substitute bill that received the blessing of Kowall and Robertson, and the unanimous blessing of two dozen of their colleagues.
We suspect the real “animus,” to use language from the legislation itself, is homosexuality. Period. If they had considered those three aforementioned scenarios, we believe it’s likely that the state Senate’s Republican Caucus would have tossed out the language. We suspect it was the Religious Right, eager to maintain a perceived strangle-hold on “virtue” and heteronormativity, that put forth the short-sighted, gay-people-are-destroying-our-social-fabric “solution,” intentionally or unintentionally, to which our elected representatives outrageously acquiesced. Or kowtowed. Or placated. Or didn’t think about enough.
Bullying, of any kind and for any self-justified reason, is reprehensible. Religious or moral justifications for bullying are not justifications at all — they are excuses for closed-mindedness and abusive behavior, not virtue. They are excuses for a sadly accepted hate which should have no place in our society or schools.