What is the defining image in the Washington Post’s story on Mitt Romney, as a student at the Cranbrook School, bullying a gay teen-age boy? Maybe it’s Romney, the eighteen-year-old son of a governor, spotting the student, John Lauber, with, as a classmate remembered, “bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye,” and saying, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Or Romney, a few days later, “marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair.” Or the Post’sdescription of the attack itself:They came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
It is hard to forget that scene after reading it; how easy could it be after living it? For the five former students who spoke to the Post’s Jason Horowitz —four of them allowed their names to be used—it seems to have been impossible, becoming the sort of indelible, awful wrong that haunts both sides. “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” Thomas Buford said. “What a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do.” “It was vicious,” said Philip Maxwell. “He was just easy pickins,” said Matthew Friedemann. He told the Post that he wondered if they’d get in trouble. They didn’t; nor did Romney when another student thought to be gay spoke in class and he called out, “Atta Girl!” Lauber, however, was kicked out of Cranbrook, a private all-boys boarding and day school, when someone saw him smoking a cigarette, alone.
A fourth boy who was there that day, David Seed, still had it on his mind when he stopped for a drink at a bar in O’Hare Airport thirty years later, and “noticed a familiar face”:
“Hey, you’re John Lauber,” Seed recalled saying at the start of a brief conversation. Seed, also among those who witnessed the Romney-led incident, had gone on to a career as a teacher and principal. Now he had something to get off his chest.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help in the situation,” he said.
Lauber paused, then responded, “It was horrible.” He went on to explain how frightened he was during the incident, and acknowledged to Seed, “It’s something I have thought about a lot since then.”
The one person who says he has not thought about it a lot is Mitt Romney. His campaign told the Post, “The stories of fifty years ago seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.” Thursday morning, as it became clear that this was no kind of answer—that Horowitz and Julie Tate, who contributed to the reporting, had this story down, with witnesses who are members of both political parties and have grown into a range of professions—Romney, on Fox News Radio, offered a blanket apology for anything that might have slipped his mind:Back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously, I apologize for that… You know, I don’t, I don’t remember that particular incident [laughs]… I participated in a lot of high jinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.
Does he count this as a high jink or a prank? It was neither; it is hard to imagine that hurt, rather than being the byproduct, was anything other than the point of the attack on Lauber. In terms of what a gay teen-ager might encounter, and what other boys might go along with at a school like Cranbrook, 1965 was different; but memory and empathy are not qualities that have only been invented since then. As our country has changed, and the other boys became men, they seem to have turned the events of that day over in their minds, not once, but many times, and made something new out of it. That it why it’s all the worse that Romney says he can’t remember—that he walked blithely away from the boy crying on the ground and kept going. Was there nowhere in him for that sight to lodge?
What one does as a teen-ager does not need to mark a person or a politician for life. We can all be stupid. For Senator Rand Paul, it’s Aqua Buddha; for Senator Robert Byrd, it was, more darkly and at a more mature age, his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. It took many more years than it should, but Byrd learned how to talk about that in a way that suggested understanding and repentance. Both of those are necessary.
And how far has Romney moved? This story is resonant because one can, all too easily, see Romney walking away even now, or simply failing to connect, to grasp hurt. How he talks about this incident will be impossible to divorce from how he talks about same-sex marriage in the wake of President Obama’s announcement, and about questions of basic dignity for gay and lesbian Americans. But unless he deals with it soundly, it will also be present as people wonder about his compassion for anyone not as well situated and cosseted as he has always been. Who else might he walk away from? Until now, the campaign has talked about his fondness for pranks as a way to humanize him; his wife called him wild and crazy. Is this what they think that means?
Can Romney, in the end, see this story from anyone’s perspective but his own? There were two vantage points on the campus of Cranbrook that day: Romney’s, looking at Lauber; and that of Lauber, who was figuring out who he was, with his newly dyed hair “draped over his eye,” or earlier, at a mirror, wondering how it looked. One hopes he decided it was beautiful, and never changed his mind. Lauber died, of cancer, in 2004, after a life that sounds peripatetic and, in some ways, unsettled. The Post spoke to his surviving sisters: “He kept his hair blond until he died, said his sister Chris. ‘He never stopped bleaching it.’ ”
[TW: Bullying, Suicide] The Bigoted Bullying of our LGBT Youth and the Responsibilities of Parents and Educators
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. – John F. Kennedy”
There was a story on CNN (and other outlets) about An Indiana mother who sent her gay son to his high school with a stun gun after administrators apparently didn’t do enough to stop the bullying.
The mother, Chelsea Grimes, said she would do it again. In an all-too-familiar response, Principal Larry Yarrel said, “If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.” This is eerily similar to blaming a rape victim for their assault by citing their choice of clothing. It is, for lack of a better word…
It wasn’t long ago that a man named Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, killed himself after discovering that his roommate had secretly used a webcam to stream his romantic interlude with another man over the Internet. There have been many others, and often the high-school level is the absolute worst time in the lives of our LGBT youth. Most often, the abuse started many years prior and has gone undefended either due to ignorance or negligence.
There has been a lot of attention to paid lately to the problem of bullying, particularly inclusive of the discrimination of our LGBT youth. Sometimes the bullies get a comeuppance, but that is rare. It’s the victims who end up getting the short end of the stick. While this sometimes ends up in murder or suicide, it always ends up in a miserable childhood. Adolescence and young adulthood is often a trying time for those who do not fit the mold of what society says is acceptable, and they often endure non-stop abuse. They get picked on, chastised, have their property destroyed and get assaulted and terrorized very regularly.
They say the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Most bullies are homegrown, having been nurtured by their parents in the ways of hatred and bigotry. These are not pleasant children. They are generally cruel, horrible, mean little urchins. As a parent, I can fully understand why Mrs. Grimes would send her son to school with a defensive weapon. It is a sad commentary on some of our educators and school administrators that a parent should even have to consider this.
If my child were the target of unrelenting harassment, I cannot say I would not do the same. I have an intense desire to protect my children, and if those who are responsible for ensuring their safety are failing at their job, it is my responsibility as a parent to act in the best interests of my child, and to do whatever I can to make sure no harm comes to them. Some parents excel at this. Others fail miserably.
It Gets Better…?
In spite of all the “it gets better” videos that have been offered up by various celebrities (which I fully support), many of our youth who fall victim to constant bullying cannot fathom that it will eventually stop. I can personally vouch for this, as I spent a good part of my elementary and middle school years being bullied. I was short in stature and not athletic at all. I did well in my studies, was overweight and wore glasses. I was never seen in church, was kinda shy and not popular with the girls. Add to the mix that I was part of the geek squad (AV), a musician and participated in the arts and theater groups. As part of the drama club I got a little plastic ID card that identified me as a “Thespian.”
According to the bullies in my school, this meant that I was obviously gay. When I was being regularly assaulted through all of my elementary and middle school years, there was little that anyone could do to convince me that it would end. I cannot honestly say what would have happened had the bullying endured into my high-school years. I can remember very clearly thoughts of killing myself, but mostly I had thoughts about murdering the bullies.
Fortunately, I had very progressive-minded secular parents who encouraged communication. When I communicated my thoughts, they sought out a therapist for me. Over a period of a couple of years I learned valuable skills that helped me deal with my feelings constructively. This, by the way, eventually led to my career as a writer.
While being bullied for things like weight, stature and personal preferences within school activities is a huge problem, it doesn’t even begin to touch the level that the LGBT youth are dealing with. Bigoted bullying is often systemic within the family construct. Those who bully others for being gay or perceived as gay are often the children of equally bigoted bully parents.
For me, the most common taunts I got when I was in elementary and junior high, and the ones that resulted in the most severe incidences of personal assault, were “faggot” and “queer.” This continued even when I “grew” into my weight and nobody cared if I was a geek or part of the drama club. The bullying finally stopped when it became apparent that I was not homosexual. This should speak volumes to you.
Bigoted bullying toward the LGBT community doesn’t stop at high-school graduation. This is why the campaign is called “it gets better,” and not “it will stop.” Where the LGBT community is concerned, bullying often continues into college and beyond. The assaults and battering get more intense, more damaging and more cruel as the bullies grow into their bigotry, incorporating it into their world view. Sometimes those bigoted bullies end up in politics – shaping the anti-gay legislation and discrimination we are seeing with the likes of Perry, Bachman, et., al.
To be bullied is a horrible way to go through youth. It seems like the bullying is going to last forever, and in spite of what they are told, adulthood is light years away and the torture they are enduring doesn’t feel like it’s going to end any time soon. Fear and apprehension consume every waking moment, and many of the sleeping ones, too. While the bully is always to blame, some of the blame must be shared by the parents of the children being victimized when those parents choose to ignore the concerns of their children or offer useless and often damaging advice. While the actions of Mrs. Grimes sending her child to school with a weapon might be extreme, at least she is attempting to deal with her son’s plight.
As I stated, my parents chose a plan of action that was successful. However, there are many youth who arrive home after school every day and tell their parents they are being bullied, and their parents choose to either invalidate their child’s fears or offer advice that puts the solution on the shoulders of an already overwhelmed kid. Telling a child to ignore bullies, or take a route that circumvents the bully, or some other avoidance technique only instills in the mind of the child that their abuse will only be stopped if they make a change, rather than the abuser being held responsible. Imagine giving similar advice to a woman who is being beaten by her husband…
Listen To Your Child…
Parents need to take their child’s situation seriously. Bullying is not “normal adolescent behavior” and advice to ”avoid the bullies” is completely impractical in a closed society like a school. It’s like trying to avoid a tornado by stepping into an outhouse. Parents need to get involved, talk to the school and if that doesn’t work, take it a step or two further, even if it means levying charges against the school for not providing a safe environment for its students.
Allowing severe bullying to continue in primary school can end up with a severely disturbed high-school student, and in some cases, the results are horrifying. Children committing suicide because of being bullied is not a new problem, and the reasons why they are being bullied have also not changed. For boys, accusations of homosexuality still top the list, and there is no way to get around the fact that the source of the ignorance toward homosexuality is borne out of religious beliefs, indoctrination and superstitions.
It pains most of us when a youth chooses to end their lives because they are being tortured for who they are. Part of parenting skills should consist of training to properly to recognize a potential suicide or a situation that could very likely culminate in multiple homicides. There is enough attention being paid to the problem of bullying that ignorance can no longer be afforded as an excuse by parents, guardians or school employees.
If a responsible adult is aware of the situation and does nothing about it, the blood of those who are killed, including the child who commits suicide, is on their hands, as well. The world suffers a great loss when a child dies, because a piece of our future dies as well. Everybody loses.
My only small disagreement with this is his take on parenting skills. Parents should know how to recognize the signs of depression or the potential for retaliation, however it’s not easy for them to always be aware of what’s going on their child’s life. There have also been those who have supported and fought for their children who still lost them suicide because the other adults in their lives, like politicians and school admins, turn a blind eye to what’s going on. There are some things that cannot be prevented regardless of the skill of the parent. ~ Kim
Linda Holmes, writing about the R rating given to the documentary ‘Bully’.
There’s a second paragraph I wanted to quote as well, but I’m adding it down here as a separate thing due to the change in voice:
The entire point of this film is that kids do not live with the protection we often believe they do — many of them live in a terrifying, isolating war zone, and if you hide what it’s like, if you lie about what they’re experiencing, you destroy what is there to be learned.
Because while very pertinent, this chunk feels much more aimed at those who have the privilege of making that assumption - that kids are protected at all.