12/04/2016 5:47 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Violence Doesn't 'Toughen Up' LBGT Kids. It Kills Them


It's no secret that most people get bullied in one way or another during their adolescence.

When I wrote "Why you should speak up if you see a gay kid being bullied" last week, I made a point that LGBT young people receive more than their "fair share" of bullying.

Kids will always be kids, and bullying will always exist in some form. I'm not naïve enough to think otherwise. As a gay man who was bullied from ages 11-16 myself, I had a few kicks but I got through rather unscathed -- at least physically.

I'm a New Zealander. This is a country where LGBT rights have moved quickly since the Homosexual Law Reform Act of 1986. When marriage equality was legalised in 2013 -- a mission we all campaigned and lobbied so hard for -- I definitely felt it would spark the end of schoolyard LGBT bullying. With equality comes acceptance, at least eventually. Well, that's what we tell ourselves.

I seldom read the comments on my columns as they can be terribly hateful. For some compulsive reason on this week's article about bullying of gay kids, however, I did. What I read has shocked me and changed the way I think about the average New Zealander, and his/her so-called progressive LGBT acceptance.

The most surprising? The suggestions -- multiple, multiple suggestions -- that being bullied as an LGBT adolescent is a way of "toughening you up" for what's to come in the real world.

Worse, still, was the proposition that LGBT kids can actually do something about being bullied: learn to fight back. Yes, with actual, brute force, hand-to-hand violence. The kind of violence that gets LGBT kids killed, and, all too frequently, leads them to kill themselves. Gay kids must "sort it out like it used to be", one reader even wrote.

Perhaps this is an Antipodean way of thinking; one rooted in our idolatry of the "bloke". To suggest it's okay to be violent in order to prevent violence coming towards you is, quite frankly, playing up to that hyper-masculine, footy-playing, stereotypical Kiwi-Aussie notion that causes so much schoolyard bullying in the first place. Not only prehistoric, it's also the opposite of how we're telling kids to stop bullying these days.

Another Kiwi journalist, broadcaster Heather du Plessis-Allan, recently tackled this divergent advice in a piece on online bullying. Her theory -- one with which I'm in complete agreement -- was that societally we're now telling kids to ignore the trolls, the online hate, the bile, and the vitriol, and the perpetrators will lose interest and leave them alone.

This is in complete juxtaposition to what our parents and teachers said to us in the 1980s and 1990s, when we were pre-internet-era kids. We were then told of the importance of standing up to bullies, calling out their hatred, and standing our own ground to assert strength within ourselves.

Not only do I completely reject the idea of LGBT kids trying to physically do violence upon their bullies, the idea that violence is somehow "conditioning" for harder knocks in life further perpetuates this ham-fisted Antipodean belief that if you're given "the bash", it's your duty to bash back. Or else, of course, you're a wimp, a sissy, a victim who will never learn to stand on their own feet. Backward, damaging, stupid, illegal. This kind of advice is all of these things.

The concept of being violent -- especially if you're a boy -- to stand up against LGBT bullying is intrinsically flawed in another way. I can't say that my experience is representative of all gay boys growing up in this part of the world, but the majority of my bullies were actually female, not other males.

While the rugby-heads ignored me completely, it was the teenage girls who first called me a poofter, a fag, a Mary and a fairy. Rarely addressed when we think about LGBT bullying is female homophobia towards men, but I can assure you it's an unspoken phenomenon.

So, in taking the "sort it out like it used to be" advice, gay adolescents should therefore, what, hit the girls that bully them? I can't think of a quicker way to get expelled from school and potentially end up in a juvenile rehabilitation centre.

I don't want to think the negative comments people leave on news websites are representative of the average New Zealander, but it can't help but wake me up to an issue. Progressive politics don't necessarily translate to progressive mindsets amongst the general public.

I hope it's just time that we need to wait for, and with patience will come tolerance, not least ubiquitous acceptance. Hopefully these opinions in favour of violence will die out as generations shift. Until then, the fight is far from over for all of us.