Since the right has decided to move beyond intellectual consistency into more abstract narratives, Maggie Gallagher is in the NY Post responding to people who say she and other homophobes are responsible for the recent gay teen suicides that made the news. She writes:
Whether you are looking at their faces or looking at the statistics, one thing is clear: These kids need help, real help. They should not become a mere rhetorical strategy, a plaything in our adult battles.
Just this week, her organization released an ad in Minnesota that said (over scary music with a picture of a kid at school):
When Massachusetts imposed gay marriage, second graders were taught that boys could marry other boys.
I actually thought she made some good points in that column, that the lack of same-sex marriage isn't the direct cause of gay teen suicide. Lots of people in the community (and celebs who build their brands on gay-friendliness) have been quick to point fingers at famous homophobes and slowness on big-ticket federal legislation while ignoring what's actually going on in schools, the actual pressures that affect LGBT teens on a day-to-day basis. It's easy to think that the same problems that affect grown-up gays are the same that are affecting all queer youth.
For instance, Maggie Gallagher is correct in pointing out that queer youth are more likely to experience teen pregnancy, prostitution, sexual violence, nonsexual violence... all of which can lead to depression and despair that cause suicide. As I posted yesterday, queer teens who get kicked out of their homes by parents have few resources that don't lead to further violence and harassment against them, few grown-ups willing to help in ways that straight teens would have access to.
Also this week, a video of 300-some high school students chanting "faggot" at a football game came out, with the administration doing nothing to stop it (the principal was later interviewed and said she'd make an announcement over the PA telling kids to knock it off). While I suppose some indirect argument could be made about how the lack of same-sex marriage in Ohio let these kids believe that the chant was fine, it seems to me that the opposite is true: these kids grow up surrounded by homophobia, without even thinking about it or ever being challenged because schools are too afraid to go there, and eventually they'll vote against same-sex marriage if they have a chance because who wants to support those faggots?
What queer youth need most immediately is help, as Maggie Gallagher says. A place to stay, someone to actually address bullying in schools, help finishing school when their parents won't, someone to help navigate their identities so that they know they're not the only person to ever be as they are.
But what is she doing to help? How much money has NOM donated to make sure that homeless queer youth have a place to stay? How much time has she spent at schools trying to reduce anti-gay bullying?
She cites a few statistics:
These kinds of negative outcomes are consistent with the idea that anti-gay bullying is mainly responsible for the higher suicide rate among gay teens. But as I kept reading, I kept finding pieces of the puzzle that don't seem to fit the "it's homophobia pulling the trigger" narrative.
Gay students are also more than twice as likely to report having had sexual intercourse before age 13 -- that is, to be sexually abused as children. They are three times as likely to report being the victims of dating violence, and nearly four times as likely to report forced sexual contact. A majority of LGBT teens in Massachusetts reported using illegal drugs in the last month. (Perhaps most oddly, gay teens are also three times as likely as non-gay teens to report either becoming pregnant or getting someone else pregnant.)
Forced sex, childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, early unwed pregnancy, substance abuse -- could these be a more important factor in the increased suicide risk of LGBT high schoolers than anything people like me ever said?
While the studies she's citing are more limited than she's making them out to be (if she's referring to the one about child abuse that I think she is it was a small study in New Zealand, and the one about pregnancy included bisexual, not just gay, teens, whose pregnancy rate is higher than both lesbian and straight girls'), she's not entirely incorrect to say that queer youth experience stress and tragedy at a higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts.
What I don't get is how those statistics show homophobia isn't to blame for gay teen suicide. The disparity in queer youth homelessness and straight youth homelessness is definitely caused by homo/transphobia; parents kick their kids out because their homo/transphobia overwhelms their normal parental instincts; the teens then face homo/transphobic rejection in the foster care system and in youth shelters, making them want to leave instead of staying and facing certain violence and harassment; and they have no one to turn to at school or church because those institutions are often not accepting of queer youth because of their homo/transphobia.
In the case of bullying, the reason teens attack people they think are LGBT at school more than other students is because of their own learned homophobia. Kids aren't born thinking that sexual attraction between members of the same sex is bad, but they sure do learn it quickly enough in our culture. They also don't start out with set ideas of what a boy or a girl should do, wanting to exact violence on their peers for not following a bunch of cultural rules, but their insecurity and awkwardness at that age makes them look their parents and to a larger, homo/transphobic society for guidance.
All of this is to say that Maggie Gallagher's arguments don't let her off the hook, but I'm not trying to let us off the hook either. While it's easy to blame "society," as someone did on a comment on another site on one of my posts about queer youth, arguing that schools shouldn't change but "society" should, and it's easy to blame someone who's famous like Maggie Gallagher, the problem does have points of intervention. And the ones that will show the most immediate benefit are the ones generally being ignored by the community's big donors.
If Maggie Gallagher is actually concerned with queer youth as she says she is, perhaps she could donate to the Ali Forney Center to help some teens find a place to stay so that they don't have to get caught up in the violence that she knows so much about. Of course she won't, because she's a clown who doesn't really care about much other than advancing her agenda.
But that's the culture we live in, where the only time we can get close to reading an interesting discussion of the real problems facing queer youth in a mainstream paper is when someone is arguing that two dudes shouldn't be allowed to get hitched. Don't expect to see many others even discussing the issue other than the occasional story in the alt press, because homeless and closeted queer youth aren't a great market to target.