There are not “both sides” to teen suicide issue

By Jarrett Barrios By giving noted anti-gay activist Tony Perkins a platform from which he could explicitly blame the victims … Continued

By Jarrett Barrios

By giving noted anti-gay activist Tony Perkins a platform from which he could explicitly blame the victims of bullying for their own depression, the Washington Post became part of the problem.

Perkins took to the Post’s ‘On Faith’ section this week with two goals in mind. First, he wanted to extricate himself and other anti-gay activists from any blame for the tragic suicides of the past several weeks. Second, he wanted to tell the hundreds of thousands of children who are gay, or are perceived to be gay, that they themselves are to blame if they feel hopeless or helpless – not the bullies.

We called the Post out for their decision to let Perkins do this. The Post told us, via Twitter: “we’re working to cover both sides. Earlier, we hosted Dan Savage of It Gets Better in a live chat.”

Yes, you read that right. “Both sides.”

The Washington Post – one of the most respected news sources in our country’s history – is telling a nation full of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children, that their lives are up for debate.

I was a nine-year-old in Florida in 1977 during Anita Bryant’s infamous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign, when the airwaves and newspapers were flooded with hysteria. Bryant had set out to overturn a Dade County ordinance which protected people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – and to support a proposed ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples. She launched an all-out media blitz, Bible-in-hand, pressuring lawmakers and voters into supporting her anti-gay efforts. And it worked.

But the effects of that campaign didn’t stop when all the votes were counted. By giving voice to Bryant and her followers, the media had instilled in my nine-year-old heart the belief that being gay was bad. Several years later, when I realized that I was gay, all the messages that the media had given my younger self came rushing back. I felt like I was wrong for being who I was. I felt like the world would be a terrible place for me. I felt hopeless. Helpless. Like I would never be worthy of anyone’s love.

I was wrong to believe those things. But the media was wrong to sell those lies to me, under the guise of a “debate.”

By letting Tony Perkins stand on its soapbox, the Washington Post is telling today’s kids, their parents, and the educators whose job it is to prepare them for life, that it’s perfectly reasonable to claim (as Perkins does) that those dark thoughts are caused by simply being gay – and not by the fact that people like Perkins have made it their lives’ work to deny gay people the opportunity to live freely and peacefully.

In his piece this week (mere paragraphs after he claimed that he believes no person should be subjected to verbal harassment) Perkins called gay children “abnormal” and “self-destructive.” According to the Post, there’s nothing wrong with that sort of name-calling. It’s just one side of the debate. And technically the Post is correct when it says it is covering “both sides” of the scourge of anti-gay bullying.

But one of those sides belongs to the bully himself.

When have we ever seen Tony Perkins in the media, discussing an issue that did not involve the lives of gay people? How often is he on CNN to discuss poverty? When was the last time he showed up in the op-ed pages to talk about hunger or homelessness? Perkins only shows his face in the media when there’s a chance for him to argue that the lives of gay people are unworthy.

If Perkins truly believes that all people – even gay people – should be able to live their lives free from bullying, then he needs to stop bullying them himself.

Until Perkins ends his campaign to keep basic freedoms away from gay people, the Washington Post and other media outlets need to stop treating him like a reasonable contributor to our national dialogue. And if they keep giving him a soapbox, they’re telling the nation that his anti-gay screeds are just as reasonable as the opinions of those who want the bullying to stop.

Jarrett Barrios is president of GLAAD.

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  • areyousaying

    The real question is when are Americans going to stop these 25% “religious” bullies? They use their feigned “Christian Love and Concern” to jam their theocratic ideas down the rest of our throats through Limbaugh, Fox News and now On Faith.Say no to them 2 November. Don’t let their theocratic designs on America destroy our freedoms. Send them and Tony Perkins to political exile in some hateful theocracy.

  • WmarkW

    This piece, and one just posted by Joe Solmonese, both imply that Tony Perkins’ expression of his opinions on On Faith somehow constitute “bullying” (whatever that is) and are not part of the American free speech tradition.My alarm goes off when I hear people saying that we have to make exceptions to First Amendment principles for some value-judgement, emotion laden term, like “pornography” is an exception to a free press, “black magic” to free religious exercise, or “hate” to free speech.The bullying the suiciders encountered was highly personalized — cyber-communication, personal confrontations and broadcast of encounters that should have held an expectation of privacy. Personalization is an element of First Amendment exceptions for libel and slander, in that they must be individually directed. “The people supporting (some industry’s) government bailout are swindlers” is not specific enough to sue over. “God hates fags,” “Gays are perverts,” and “AIDS is a just revenge,” if not personally directed over a widely-broadcast medium, are opinions not threats.

  • dricks

    There is no excuse for bullying, and both the parents and the teachers share blame for it. Bullying someone to suicide is disgusting, whether related to sexual orientation, race, or anything else.

  • JPie612

    @WMarkW: This is not a first amendment issue. Mr. Perkins still has the right to say whatever it is he wants. He does not, however, have to right to be published in a national newspaper. Notice the Washington Post would likely not publish someone spewing racial epithets toward black people and call it “Both sides” of the race debate. WaPo has every right to refuse to publish Mr. Perkins’ erroneous comments and label it as “both sides” of the debate. The fact it, several national organizations have long proved his claims to be false, and if the Washington Post had an editor there worth his/her salt, they would have fact-checked his blathering before allowing it in their paper.

  • SJames6621

    Perkins should be held guilty of mass murder of gay and perceived gay kids. He reminds me of Hitler, who murdered 55 million people with his words. Including germany’s gays, the Jews, and others. I took a pix of Perkins and showed it to some gay friends, because I wondered about him. And none of these people knew who he was, but all but one said their gaydar said “he is gay”. Just another murderous homophobe who hates himself, and throws out his hate on others.And his sidekick Peter Sprigg, I’ve met him. He is just laster focused on hatred fo gay people.What he never tells is that he is a Baptist minister – the culture that gave us slaverry and the kkk and segregation. Who have a new victim to hate.Also, interesting that spriggs was an actor in christian plays in college. A very large percentage of actors are gay. Makes you wonder.These people are just like little hitlers, who btw, had all his soldiers wearing belt buckles saying “Gott Mit Uns” You can guess the translation.Andc the family research council has called for the jailing of all gay people.The our own talibangelicals, that doesn’t mean jail. That means a new Auschwitz.When is the USA going to do something about these murderous monsters, who btw, contribute directly to the every year 9/11 of about 3000 gay kids committing suicide.

  • SJames6621

    Why in the F… does the Wapo even give these creeps anything more then a sentence saying ……………….”The hate group Family research council is at it again.”

  • lepidopteryx

    Perkins and his ilk seem to take the position that if you don’t want to be bullied because you’re gay, then just don’t be gay. It’s not quite that easy.

  • commonsense202

    Shame on the Post

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    WmarkW |My neighbor has freedom of speech to say anything that he wants to say. If I chooses to punch him in the nose for saying it, I have commited a crime, not him; but his nose will still be punched.

  • WmarkW

    My neighbor has freedom of speech to say anything that he wants to say. If I chooses to punch him in the nose for saying it, I have commited a crime, not him; but his nose will still be punched.There’s an exception to the Constitutional free speech doctrine called fighting words that should apply to bullying. However, to be fighting words, the speech has to be individually directed. “You’re a fag and should go kill yourself” are fighting words.Waving a placard “God Hates Fags” is not.

  • hammett1

    SJames asserts that England has hate laws that prevent Perkinsonian group defamation, but that is not the case where the animus directed at homosexuals is claimed to be based on religious belief. Only direct incitement of another or others to murder or hate crime is an offence. Defamation of an individual or individuals is another matter and comes within the ambit both of criminal defamation (eg accusing a named person of being a sex offender solely on the basis of their being homosexual) or civil action (very expensive).

  • MichaelT3

    Fantastic piece, Mr. Barrios. I agree that Perkins’s distorted opinion piece should not even have appeared in the Washington Post–he’s entitled to his opinion, but the Post is under no obligation to publish his hate mongering. The media needs to wake up and hold itself accountable–each time you give voice to these hate-filled blowhards, you spread the message that being gay is inherently wrong. Stop it already. Kids are dying because of it.

  • dubosquejr

    I will announce my “bias” up front: I am related to one of Mr. Barrios’ employees.

  • t_parker16

    Hey Washington Post! Shouldn’t you put your anti-gay hate speech behind an adult-protected barrier? At least bare breasts generally don’t contribute to teen suicide statistics.

  • t_parker16

    Absolutely. We, in the United States, assume that responsible publishers will put material that may be harmful to children or teens behind protected barriers – whether in print or on the Internet. We place warnings regarding adult material. We install digital nannies to monitor what our kids read.Why is this religious hate speech accessible to kids? Bare breasts rarely, if ever, have driven a teen to suicide. A sexy butt has never, to my knowledge, incited a child to bully a classmate. What standard of journalistic integrity requires the Post to make demeaning and degrading Op Eds accessible to children and other impressionable individuals?

  • bobbarnes

    Thank you, Mr. Barrios.

  • diggittmcl

    Look at the First Amendment again. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “There’s nothing in there about the WaPo or any other organ being forced to allow hate speech in its pages. “Congress shall make no law…” is what it says and that’s what it means.Nobody’s First Amendment rights would be violated if the WaPo exercised some editorial judgment, and hiding behind the First Amendment only shows what cowards they are.

  • GalapagoLarry

    C’mon, folks. Religion — any religion? — gets a free pass with this “both sides” relativism. I’m sure WaPo has signed on Mel Gibson for a forthcoming column on Jews. Can’t wait for that one to hit the fan.

  • GalapagoLarry

    C’mon, folks. Religion — any religion? — gets a free pass with this “both sides” relativism. I’m sure WaPo has signed on Mel Gibson for a forthcoming column on Jews. Can’t wait for that one to hit the fan.

  • mcjunkmail

    Article has not been pulled:

  • AJBF

    Mr. Barrios, thank you for your eloquent, right on target piece. Hope the Washington Post got the message. Tony Perkins is a disturbed, obsessed, hateful individual peddling bigotry under the guise of religion.