The Bullies’ Pulpit

A few statistics:
  • 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school, and LGBT teens are bullied 2 to 3 times as much as straight teens.
  • More than 1/3 of LGBT kids have attempted suicide.
  • LGBT kids are 4 times as likely to attempt suicide than are their straight peers.
  • For every lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who is bullied, four straight students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian are bullied.

Despite statistics like these, and despite a spate of recent headlines about episodes where tormenting behaviors have pushed GLBT youth to suicide, the Indiana General Assembly has refused to pass the sort of anti-bullying legislation that is law elsewhere; our intrepid legislators have expressed concern that anti-bullying measures might infringe the “free speech rights” of the students who disapprove of classmates they perceive to be gay. That such disapproval tends to take the form of persistent physical and verbal abuse evidently does not merit equivalent concern.

If you are a gay teen in Indianapolis, and you are coming to terms with your sexuality in an environment that not only doesn’t protect you, but does protect the bullies who make your life miserable, you don’t have a lot of options. If your parents aren’t accepting, your situation is even worse. Most of us remember how hard it was just being a teenager, let alone a teenager facing mocking, marginalization and other evidence of social disapproval.

The Indiana Youth Group has been a godsend to so many of those teens. It has provided a “safe place”–an environment in which troubled and/or angry and/or depressed young people can get counseling, make friends, and feel valued.  The 15-year-old girl who was cutting herself because the physical pain made the psychic pain easier to bear; the 13-year boy who was already raiding the family’s liquor cabinet in an effort to blot out classmates taunts; the self-destructive 16-year old boy who rarely spoke–as well as less damaged children who simply yearned for a non-judgmental environment–find their way to IYG. For twenty-five years, the organization has been a safe haven for children who are hurting as a result of thoughtless cruelty and intentional homophobia.

Our Indiana legislators couldn’t find it in their hearts to pass a law that would protect these vulnerable children against bullying in our schools. They also couldn’t find time in their busy legislative schedules to address a number of important issues facing the state. But at least twenty of them managed to find the time to do a little bullying of their own.

Their mean-spirited effort to pass a law that would keep IYG from participating in the State’s specialty license plate program failed–due largely to a grass-roots outcry joined by news media around the state. But these lawmakers weren’t willing to let the matter die. They wrote to the Department of Motor Vehicles, claiming that IYG and two other organizations had “breached their contracts” by giving a small number of plates to donors–a practice that was evidently fairly widespread, and a “breach” that legislators and the BMV had previously ignored.

When you are a state agency, and you get a letter signed by twenty of the people who control your funding, you listen. So IYG’s participation in the specialty plate program has been suspended, and the bullies in the General Assembly have achieved by stealth what they couldn’t manage in the light of day.

It’s worth considering what it is that they have achieved.

Their “victory” has kept license plates with the legend “IYG” off the road.  In their fevered imaginations, such plates would have signaled “acceptance” of the existence and equal civil status of gay people, and thus hastened the decline of Western Civilization As We’ve Known It.

Their “victory” has also kept IYG from participating in a fundraising program, proceeds of which would have supported a staff position. Fewer hurting children will be served if they can’t replace those funds. (But they are gay hurting children, so they don’t matter.)

Studies show that bullies have a quite distinctive mental make-up—what psychiatrists call a hostile attributional bias, a kind of paranoia characterized by attributing hostile intentions to others. The trouble is, bullies perceive provocation where it does not exist. (Think of the persistent accusations from homophobes about the nefarious “gay agenda” or their more recent insistence that groups like IYG are “targeting” children.) Those imaginary provocations are used to justify their aggressive behavior. Bullies pick on people and act aggressively because they process social information inaccurately. Unfortunately, real people get hurt in the process.

If there is one thing we have learned from this distasteful, embarrassing display it is that we’ve elected at least twenty bullies to the Indiana General Assembly. No wonder they wouldn’t pass anti-bullying legislation.


  1. I’m not a big fan of specialty license plates. I think there should be one Indiana license plate so people know what an Indiana license plate looks like for identification purposes. Having said that, the legislative efforts targeting IYG’s plates were obviously mean-spirited and discriminatory. IYG still had a legal obligation to comply with the rules for issuing specialty license plates if it wanted to exercise this privilege. I understand they were publicly offering low-digit license plates in exchange for contributions of up to $5,000 to the organization. The rules clearly prohibit any organization from receiving additional compensation in considerataion of giving a certain number or low-digit license plate. The fact that the BMV took the same action against 4-H and the Greenways Foundation makes it clear their actions were based upon the law, not a discriminatory intent, even if that was the motive behind the senators who filed the complaint against the organization. I suspect some of them are wishing they hadn’t filed the complaint now that the 4-H has lost its specialty plate privilege as well.

  2. Let’s see, distributing low numbered plates to contributors — isn’t that how both political parties distribute low-numbered plates to their contributors?

  3. Probably so, Lois. Those types always seem to have single-digit numbers on their plates, don’t they. There’s a different set of rules for the ruling elite in Indiana in case you haven’t figured that out yet. Why make it so easy for someone to identify who you are? Is the vanity worth it?

  4. As I am learning with other political hoorah-rahs (Limbaygh, Komen), I need to vote not only at the ballot box, but withy checkbook. So I pledge a contribution to IYG and hope others will do the same!

  5. Gary’s observations about the motivation behind all of this being mean-spirited and clearly targeting the work/existance of IYG. Unfortunately motivation alone isn’t usually relevant to whether or not one has met the exact terms and conditions of a contract. In addition, it’s possible that in different years different contract provisions were in place. I don’t think that one has been discussed. What IS clear is that HJR-6, the proposed amendment to Indiana’s Constitution that would (unlike its milder predecessor SJR-7) ban both judges and legislators themselves from granting anything “substantially similar” to marriage, will be back again for second passage next January. Supporters will say it has nothing to do with sexual orientation……..the unabashed attack by Micah Clark and Eric Miller on IYG totally belies this. And they’ve managed again to make 20 GOP state senators cower before them. Lisa is right……ballot box AND donations…..

  6. I plan on making a donation to IYG as well. I wish I could afford to buy a billboard in each of those 20 districts to call them out as the bullies they are.

  7. Gary Welsh :
    The fact that the BMV took the same action against 4-H and the Greenways Foundation makes it clear their actions were based upon the law, not a discriminatory intent, even if that was the motive behind the senators who filed the complaint against the organization..

    I disagree. The fact that 4-H and Greenways lost their plates makes it clear they were sacrificed to give the government cover for their month-long harassment of IYG. I feel quite confident in stating that if IYG had not been in the mix, nobody would have (a) cared that the other groups were “selling” their plates or (b) if anybody had, they might have received a warning but would have retained their plates. This was discrimination, plain and simple. 4-H and Greenways were collateral damage, unfortunately.

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