Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Is beyondblue's latest campaign helping or isolating LGBTI people?

The following is the first post on this site by someone other than me. For those that don't follow my page on Facebook and/or Twitter (which would be erroneous - hit the like/follow link(s) on the left hand side please!) you would have missed my recent post about Monica Doumit. I am delighted to announce that Monica will be contributing to the site on an ad-hoc basis (time and willingness permitting!). 

Monica has practiced as a Corporate Lawyer in Sydney and the UK and also holds a Masters of Bioethics. She is the co-ordinator of Catholic Talk in Sydney.

On top of all that, she's a friend and an intelligent one at that, which will no doubt lift the content of the site considerably! 

I hope you enjoy her first piece for Dom Meese - My Piece!. 


beyondblue last week announced the Stop.  Think.  Respect: Left Hand campaign, a major initiative aimed at stamping out discrimination against LGBTI people.

It is a good and noble aim.  No person should be discriminated against or bullied because of their sexuality.  The mental health consequences of bullying are real, and we need to do something about it.

I know beyondblue are the experts when it comes to mental health, and so I feel a little awkward making a comment about their campaign.  But if I’m honest, I’m a little concerned about it.  
I’m concerned that we might be projecting adult sensitivities on to our children, and maybe even making things worse. 6 in 10 of the students surveyed said that they had first-hand seen someone bullied because of their sexuality.  That statistic is alarming, no doubt. But I wonder what would have happened if they had asked students about whether they had seen someone bullied because of their weight.  My guess is that the numbers would have been about the same.  

Similarly, a quarter of the students said that the use of the words “homo” and “dyke” were not really 
that bad.  I imagine the statistics would have been the same if they had asked about the word “fat” 
or “ranga”.

It’s an awful reality, but kids can be really cruel. When I think back to my own school years, I remember being made fun of for being one of the fat girls, one of the smart girls, one of the Lebanese girls, one of the girls who had an unfortunate experience with the Napro LIVE rinses... anything and everything.

Many times I was the victim but also, I’m ashamed to say, that I would have been a perpetrator as well.  It happens all the time in school. 

Smart kids get picked on and so do the not-so-smart kids. Girls who are sexually active are labelled, but so are the ones who haven’t had their first kiss. All aspects of appearance are made fun of.  If it’s not weight, it’s hair or clothing choices on casual days.

That’s why high school is such an ordeal.  That’s why movies like Mean Girls resonate so well with  many of us.

I am not for a second saying that bullying is okay, it’s not. It should be stamped out and punished when it happens to anyone. But I wonder if singling out young LGBTI people for the focus of a special anti-bullying campaign doesn't add to their isolation or their feelings of not being accepted.

Thinking about myself, I would have been mortified if a campaign had begun which singled out bullying the fat kids as being especially bad.  If I had been told that every time someone called me “fat” they were being discriminatory and not just a stupid kid, my feelings of shame would have been compounded.

I think I would have left school identifying myself with what the scales said and nothing else. I would have interpreted every sideways look as someone judging me. I would have thought that every time someone walked past my seat on a train or a bus, they were doing it because they thought I would squash them (I do have those feelings sometimes, but not always).

Fortunately, there was no “respect the fat kids” campaign.  Instead, any time I repeated a nasty comment which had been thrown at me, an adult would comfort me by saying that they were just being kids, and that none of this stuff mattered in the real world.

You might think that sounds dismissive, but it was true.

Kids eventually grow up and realise they can’t behave like they did at school when they enter “the real world” of adulthood.  Some try to do the Peter Pan thing and maintain their high-school jibes for as long as possible, but their bad behaviour is generally called out by those around them.  

Until then, I think it might be wise to just treat the bullying of LGBTI students as bullying and try to combat it by teaching respect for everyone.  Not only will it mean that our efforts might help more students, it will also teach all of us that we are more than the sum of our characteristics – be it our sexuality, our appearance, our ethnicity, our intelligence, our socio-economic status, our sporting capabilities or whatever.

Monica Doumit

Monica can be contacted on Twitter via her Twitter handle @MonicaDoumit or via the Catholic Talk Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CatholicTalk