Our Favorite Romney may claim these days that he's kinda-sorta in favor of LGBT equality (or as much equality as the average Republican can spout while still toeing the party line). But the Boston Globe is now reporting that in 2006, Romney’s administration stopped the publication of an anti-bullying pamphlet because it contained the words “bisexual” and “transgender,” terms his conservative supporters deemed were evidence of the “radical agenda.”
Considering that transgender kids attempt suicide at 25 times the national average and that some studies report that bisexual teens are bullied more often than gay or lesbian ones, I’m not sure exactly why Romney’s administration decided that they weren’t worthy of a mention. I can make some guesses, though.
As the Globe points out, this was just the latest in a string of Romney’s refusal to acknowledge the pressing need to enact anti-LGBT bullying measures in the state of Massachusetts. He also threatened to shut down the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth and vetoed a $158,000 budget item meant to counsel violence victims in the LGBT community. So while this new information doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, it also reinforces what seems to be the conservative norm these days: Bullied kids need protection, but only if they don’t promote a “radical agenda.” Whatever that means.
The spate of "Don't Say Gay" bills, for instance, are often cited as ways to stop the gaygenda from infiltrating our schools (and, one assumes, our water supply). When asked about the clear pro-bullying implications of this, some politicians seem to think that it will actually stop bullying, because it'll keep kids' focus on school and not on all that distracting girl-on-girl action. Because I guess when school administrations can’t say the word “homosexual,” it also somehow prevents kids from using a whole slew of anti-gay slurs. I know! I hadn’t had any idea either. Thanks, Republicans!
This particular move by Mittens also echoes the often-spouted notion that bullied gay kids are more or less asking for it. Zeroing in on “bisexuals” and “transgender” as the offensive language in question serves to isolate those identities from the queer continuum. Outright intolerance against gay and lesbian people, particularly monogamous couples, is rapidly becoming unacceptable politically, which is pretty freaking awesome. Like I’ve said before, though, bisexuals and transgender folks don’t fit as neatly into those familiar categories.
Straddling boundaries is, at its heart, an innately powerful and dangerous act. Maybe that’s what Romney’s conservative melee can sense. Maybe it scares them. But the fear of people who live outside of recognizable boxes shouldn’t come at the cost of kids’ safety.
As any bullied kid knows, it takes more than a pamphlet to shake off the gnawing sense of self-loathing that being continuously tormented engenders. I was a pretty lucky baby gay: By the time I really started coming into my own identity, I’d surrounded myself with a pretty decent group of weirdoes who were more interested in watching Adult Swim videos than what any of us were doing with each other in our parents’ Camrys. But even the scant amount of bullying I did incur made me feel crazy and exposed, like every odd desire I’d ever felt was branded on my collarbones for everyone to see.
“Dyke,” one girl in particular loved to hiss from the chair behind me whenever I’d raise my hand in freshman English. I’d stiffen, eyes widening.
“You heard me,” she’d purr. Every damn time, I’d put my hand down. She and her friends would snicker and I’d slouch, nervously tearing at the corners of my binder.
Again, nothing compared to what some kids go through. I was never physically harassed and never feared for my safety. But I still ended up in the girls’ bathroom during lots of lunch periods, biting my lip and mentally replaying every time Katrina had snarked at me until I wanted to throw up. If any well-meaning counselor had knocked on the stall door with a pamphlet, I probably would have ripped off my shirt like the Hulk and gone for the kill.
I also think, though, that even having a pamphlet available demonstrates an implicit support from the administration that many LGBT kids desperately need. I can’t picture any kid methodically going through the tips (“Have I talked to an adult? Check. Have I confronted my bully? Check.”), but the sheer fact of an otherwise boundary-challenging identity written on paper can be a tiny, bracing affirmation. Other people are going through this, it acknowledges. You are not the only one.
In 2006, Mitt Romney’s administration’s actions effectively declared that even giving bisexuals and transgender kids a chance at this kind of hope was an abhorrent act. Forced invisibility can be just as emotionally damaging as outright hostility, especially for younger people. And for wealthy people in power, it’s often their most effective weapon.
Kate's gay agenda scares conservative politicians on Twitter at @katchatters.