Thursday, October 27, 2011

Always plenty of fault to spread around

I've been mulling what the appropriate post could be on the death of 15-year-old Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley and the reaction to this tragic event across various media.
It's been inspiring to read things like the op-ed piece by Ottawa Citizen education reporter Matthew Pearson — who I had no idea was from Woodstock. He sent the piece to the Sentinel-Review on the weekend and it ran as the line item on Oct. 24. The Citizen later ran it as part of an op-ed package.
Then the online world has simply been buzzing since Tuesday's airing of the Rick Mercer Report, where Mercer (who is gay but has never been, quite appropriately, "the gay comedian") ranted about Hubley's suicide. He flushed out his thoughts on Thursday morning's The Current on CBC Radio, where the podcast of that segment is sure to be linked from the show's website. It was posted Thursday afternoon.
That a person — of any age, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnic background — would choose to take their own life because of harassment, intimidation and sheer feelings of insurmountable loneliness and an inability to survive it all is wrong. Period.
Things that irk me however, are the predictable rushes to assign fault to the school and/or school board. Schools have, in my opinion, been quite responsive to these issues— the quantity and quality of programs, clubs and initiatives have vastly improved since I was a middle- and high-school student in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Let's talk about our culture though.
Despite how tolerant we all say we are, our continuing actions and inaction speak louder than our words, ribbons, clicks and pledges. While many out there have made Gay-Straight Alliances the hill upon which tolerance won't die on, I'd like to see the hard statistics on whether reported harassment at those schools has changed.
High school culture is, if you're not popular, is a horrible phase of life. It just plain sucks. Personally, until I hit Grade 11/12/OAC and stopped caring about what others said and thought, these years weren't good ones for me either. Homophobia was rampant (as it remains today) and even if you were straight but not as masculine in your stance, the jump to the world of being called every homophobic slur under the sun was quick, short and brutalizing.
Ironically, I always found the taunts tended to be harsher and more frequent from those who in hindsight came from well-educated, middle-class families.
The homophonic undertones of our teen and youth culture haven't changed. Being openly LGBTQQ is such an obvious difference from "normal" that it puts a target on your back. It bleeds through our popular culture, the culture of our athletics and youth culture.
Since youth spend a majority of their day in school, it's only natural to expect it's through schools that much of this harassment will take place. Those schools who can't change the culture in their student and staff bodies will continue to struggle with ending harassment and holding the perpetrators accountable.
Schools are no different than the rest of our society on this mark though. We need to understand that it happens in our schools because it's embedded in our culture. Harassment is a learned behaviour. While some of it may be learned in a school setting, a lot of behaviours aren't.
Something to think about the next time a tragedy strikes a harassed youth and everyone rushes to blame the schools for not doing enough.