One thing about living in Virginia is that it makes you sensitive to small victories. While my friends in D.C. and Maryland enjoy the local legal benefits of getting gay married, my husband and I are simply happy that we can be on the same health insurance policy. While much remains to be done in D.C. for transgender Washingtonians, the city is bounds ahead of most of the country and Maryland is on a path to catch up. Transgender Virginians may enjoy some minor local protections and accommodations, as long the state government doesn’t decide to step in and put a stop to it.
So the bar for success is set low on this side of the Potomac.
The latest example is Virginia’s upcoming anti-bullying law that could in theory provide protections for LGBT students who are victims of sustained harassment. I say ”in theory” because the whole reason that the bill is poised to pass with strong support is that it was neutered to avoid directly addressing LGBT youth and to provide more protections for the ”real” victims of bullying: Christians.
We’ve gotten used to anti-gay churches playing victim over the past few years as they’ve come to realize they’re on the losing side of their culture war. That’s why we keep seeing flare-ups of idiocy, like the group of concerned Christian parents in Indiana who decided they wanted a fag-free prom — that’s what ”traditional prom” means in their context — because the simple act of seeing the existence of gay people is bullying to them.
Things like the Virginia anti-bullying legislation aren’t as flamboyant as small-town fights over proms, but they capitulate to the exact same fantasy that somehow Christians are losing their rights when we gain ours. Their relentless focus on being able to clothe their children in anti-gay slogans and spout Bible verses at any moment of their choosing continues to show their inability to understand that a right to free speech doesn’t come with a right to force others to listen to it. Telling high-school hallway proselytizers to leave LGBT kids alone isn’t bullying, it’s the commonsense way to make sure all of them, Christians too, enjoy their right not to listen.
The sad thing is, there are Christian kids who are bullied and ostracized, the same way I saw them when I was in high school: girls who had to conform to dress codes by wearing modest dresses, Jehovah’s Witnesses who were pulled out of every celebration or event, Pentecostals who were dismissed and shunned as holy rollers.
But those aren’t the kids that big-money evangelical churches who preach the prosperity gospel are worried about. Those aren’t the kids that well-connected Southern Baptists are thinking of when they bemoan the fate of their religious liberty in a secular society. Those aren’t the kids that right-wing religious Republicans are thinking of when they insert language into legislation to express their concern over the bullying of Christians.
No, those kids don’t matter. The only thing that matters to these self-appointed moral guardians is maintaining special status for their own children, no matter the damage their hate causes LGBT youth or that their indifference causes youth who are the wrong kind of Christian. I may be distant from my own church upbringing at this point in life, but I did pick up a lesson from Sunday school that should be universal: Selfishness in the face of suffering and injustice is an affront to God or the universe, whichever you happen to prioritize. It’s as un-Christian an act as they come.
Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.