Telling Bullied LGBT Kids To”Act Less Gay” And “Grow A Pair.” Good Advice?

This week three different people have basically given similar for LGBT kids to avoid bullying: some UK teachers said LGBT kids should “act less gay”, Houston Chronicle columnist Kathleen McKinley said parents should closet their LGBT kids to keep them safe and openly gay The Kids in Hall performer Scott Thompson said that gay kids should “grow a pair” and “fight back.”

Largely, all three people have been lambasted for blaming the victims instead of the bullies or lazy school administrators… but could these three peeps have a point?

Hear us out: several creators of “It Gets Better” videos have said that LGBT kids should come out when they can safely do so. That is, if their parents are gonna disown them or their peers are gonna beat them to a pulp for living outside of the closet, LGBT kids should probably wait until a safer time to reveal their identity.

Should a gay boy queen out about their fabulous boyfriend and the latest Lady Gaga video when surrounded by drunk, angry homophobic meatheads? Probably not. And while the bullies rather than the gay boy should change their behavior, both the “come out when it’s safe” and “act less gay” groups would probably agree that it’s wiser and safer to let your rainbow fly in some situations than others.

But the difference between “come out when it’s safe” and “act less gay” lays in the wording and its implications. Coming out when it’s safe suggests that LGBTQ kids should carefully observe their social environments and wisely choose when and how to express their sexuality, whereas “act less gay” implies that there are certain gay behaviors which should be avoided (ie. wearing pink is gay, using a lisp is gay, enjoying literature is gay)—advice that merely reinforces gender stereotypes while making queer kids even more self-aware about everything they say and do.

Commenters on several blogs have criticized the UK teachers and McKinley by asking if black kids should avoid racial bullying by “acting less black” and attending school in white face, but that’s a faulty comparison. Skin color is a physical external attribute and some light-skinned blacks can pass for white—the same way that some LGBT kids can pass as a “normal” boy or girl.

Thompson’s advice differs in that he’s not telling kids to change their behavior at all but instead to expect bullying and defensively prepare themselves to fight back. Here’s his entire quote from Pride Source:

“When asked what advice he has for bullied youth, Thompson replies, “Grow a pair. Here’s the thing: The world is not kind to us; it never really will be. The gay male is always going to be at the bottom. I believe the things that happened to me as a child scarred me terribly, and I wish somebody would have helped me with some of the things that happened. But you have to fight back. So much of these bullying campaigns are part of the trend that we were just talking about – the recasting of gay men as eternal victims and it’s like, fight back! Fathers should start teaching the boys how to punch. He does that to you, here’s what you do: You fucking punch him in the face.”

Whether LGBT kids should all start learning jujitsu is a separate point. But let’s at least consider whether the unconventional advice of coming out when it’s safe, acting less gay and fighting back are worthwhile pieces of anti-bullying advice that may seem a heck of a lot more practical, immediate and empowering than merely telling kids to hope that “It Gets Better.”

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  • Roger Rabbit

    As much as I love Scott Thompson, I’m going to have to disagree with him on this.
    Lawrence King was encouraged to be himself and stand up to bullies, and it got him killed.

    Many people forget that the bullies we are talking about are often testosterone filled young men who are having a hard time dealing with their own same-sex attractions. Advising young effeminate acting boys to grow a pair and stand up to these persecutors is like telling someone that an angry attacking dog will back down. NOT good advice from my point of view.

    I think I’ll stick with backing the advice given by Peter Ian Cummings. In the pages of XY Magazine, he advised youth to do what was safest for them in their own circumstances. ie, if they know that coming out to their parents is going to leave them on the streets then it is probably best to stay in the closet until they are out of school, or at least out of under their parent’s roof.

    In addition, I would:

    1 – Encourage gay youth to ORGANIZE their friendships into support power groups. Either by creating a group of friends or creating school groups that can provide friends that will have their backs.

    2 – Educate youth that kids that bully are really people that fear the very thing in themselves that they are bullying others for. In that way, anyone that bullies will immediately be suspect instead of being followed.

  • Jeff

    I agree with Thompson.

    I was not bullied for coming out at 15 because I didn’t take shit from anyone and if someone did start something physical with me I’d fight them, say I was going to fight them which usually worked, or punch them back.

  • Luke

    As my Dad told me: If you start it; finish it. If someone else starts it; you finish it.
    Of course, school rules are problematic but at some point you have to fight back or hide. Bullies learn from very few things – fighting back (verbally, politically, or physically) tends to be the only way to win.
    And it doesn’t really change for adults – there are times to “blend in” and times to “flame-on” (as my straight friends like to say).

  • Dan

    Definitely be yourself, otherwise you might end up a closeted politician running for president and fooling no one (seriously, people, is anyone even pretending he’s straight?).

    Learn self defense – allies should too. There are courses for young people. Ask your local police department to do a self defense discussion for your class or group. Lots of police officers are very friendly and want kids to be safe.

    If you know who the bullies are at your school, record their activities on a phone for instance and send it to your school district and the police/sheriff department. If you get no results, send it to your local tv/radio station so the newspeople can see it and explain the situation to them.

  • ke

    Very good advice. I agree.

  • Jake

    I agree. Everyone needs to take responsibility and take care of themselves.

  • Roger Rabbit

    I stand by my original comments. Self defense is not enough, especially when the schools are doing nothing.

    No effeminate young man or lesbian can defend themselves from :
    – A large angry bully
    – A bully with a gun
    – a pack of bullies

    The FIRST goal is to keep from getting seriously harmed or killed.
    It takes collecting a group of friends that will support you and keep you safe. AFTER THAT comes the reporting.

  • NickadooLA

    Speaking as a huge fan of Scott Thompson, I happen to think he makes some valid points. There’s something to be said for facing a reasonable amount of adversity in our youth.

    We do ourselves no favors my perpetually playing the victim card. Toughening up, both physically and mentally, builds character – regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, creed, etc. Everyone gets bullied at one point or another; it’s one of the rites of passage of growing up.

    However, he and I are from far different eras. In our youth, bullying took place during school hours. We’re in the age of cyber-bullying. It’s relentless and far-reaching.

    School administrators need to do their job, and far too often they’re turning a blind eye to truly serious, life threatening problems. It’s far more dangerous in the increasingly troubling cases where the teachers and principals are the bullies themselves.

    We need reasonable measures to prevent this behavior from happening and to ensure anyone who engages in this behavior is properly punished – regardless of whether it’s the students or the faculty.

  • matt

    Kathleen McKinley displays the bothersome sort of attitudes I see from a lot of conservatives that are not openly against gays and gay rights. Their message is basically that it’s ok that we’re gay, as long as we stay quiet and accept second class citizen status in the legal system and blatant discrimination in society. This is most clearly expressed with the following quote.

    “You can grumble all day long how unfair it is that straight teens can be straight in high school, and gay kids can’t, but life is unfair.”

    That’s right, despite LGBT people making a staggering amount of progress in the past 40 years in gaining legal and societal acceptance, we must just sit back and accept staying in the closet. I think it’s a terrible message to a kid to tell them that in the face of injustice the response should be to just hide and cower in fear, accept that you can’t have what others have because you’re not equal. This would be one thing if it was decades ago where being openly gay would land you dead or in jail, but it’s 2011 for Christ’s sake, the days of being relegated to the closet should be LONG gone.

  • Sara

    Ok I think we all should stop whining about being bullied. Parents should be aware of what’s going on and encourage kids to stand up for themselves. When necessary, stand up Nd deal with it. Straight kids get bullied too. I went to school with a handful of gay boys and none of them were picked on in my private, Christian school. In fact a few of them were homecoming princes and quite popular. However there was one guy that just took every single opportunity to be a whiny brat. He thought everyone hated him because he was gay. Um no. It’s because you are a complete ass.

  • sam

    Just to clarify.

    As an obvious homosexual since 5 years old (I was called faggot in my first year), I have never and will never be able to play it straight. It’s an impossibility for me.

    I am not traditionally masculine in the slightest, and there is NO way to hide it.

    If THAT is the only help they can give gay kids, I weep for those still trapped in a bad situation.

  • Greg

    Yikes. Those of you applauding this idea must have to gone to some very hoity-toity, lily white, otherwise trouble-free schools!

    Try looking at it this way. Would you expect a kid with a disability (physical or mental), or mildly autistic, or already beaten up by his parents at home, or simply black or latino in a mostly white school, or white in a mostly black/latino school, or simply small and/or physically awkward… to fight back constructively? And when, exactly? And how would they know when, exactly? And WHY?

    Why do you consider it the victim’s responsibility at all? Unless you’re a good-sized gay kid, with already above-average social skills, in a school without much demographic disparity, and so on… you’re never going to figure out the “right” time to respond with force. It’s not going to work, either.

    It’s really cute how some of you just assume the parents are going to be on the kid’s side, or interested at all. The parents might be beating the kid too.

    Why, for that matter, do some people consider school to be mostly about “social skills”? (Whatever the fuck those are!) School is traditionally supposed to be learning about the larger world and for future employment, not learning “social skills” about whichever sadists and psychopaths happen to be your age in your school district.

    I barely survived my teenage years in the ’70s, learned next to nothing in my hellhole schools, and still don’t have a clue how to “stand up for myself” in antagonistic situations (except, maybe, in print!). But fortunately, as an adult, I’m not expected to; if someone physically assaults me, society allows me or a witness to call the police and (hopefully) get a constructive response.

    And of course, if a child is physically attacked by an adult, that’s considered a heinous crime.

    But the default assumption of some of you is – hey, gay kids are on their own, as long as their attacker is another kid. (To paraphrase Marie Antoinette: Let ’em watch “It Gets Better” videos?)

    This makes no logical – or legal – sense at all, and the most charitable thing I can say is, please try thinking it through again.

  • Jase

    Such an interesting read from a site and commenters who regularly attack effeminate gays on a regular basis

  • Chris

    It’s easy to find straight people who are or were bullied in school because someone thought they were gay. What does “act less gay” mean in that context? Stop participating in musical theater or playing softball? Shun your gay friends? Be less slightly built (males) or less athletic (females)? Why should anybody be harassed for that?

    As far as “growing a pair” it’s no secret that the physically less intimidating are more likely to be bullied. It’s not like a child has many options for correcting the disparity. And I strongly disagree that childhood bullying has any implications for adulthood. When adults behave the same as school bullies way they get fired from their jobs, ejected from public places and arrested. It’s the bullies that have to learn to live in the real world, not the victims.

  • Polyboy

    McKinley is a fucking bitch wallowing in teabagger glory. Just read her column and read the comments. She is quick to play the victim card and has no shortage of so-called conservatives crossing religion and hate.

    She and her base do only equate gay with sex and that anachronistic bullshit attitude keeps people like her from seeing homosexuals as complete human beings. If she cannot understand that being gay is about who you love then she is an enemy.

    Being mild doesn’t make her any less antagonistic.

  • Polyboy

    McKinley is a lipsticked pig wallowing teabagger glory. Just read her column and read the comments. She is quick to play the victim card and has no shortage of so-called conservatives crossing religion and hate.

    She and her base do only equate gay with sex and that anachronistic bullshit attitude keeps people like her from seeing homosexuals as complete human beings. If she cannot understand that being gay is about who you love then she is an enemy.

    Being mild doesn’t make her any less antagonistic.

  • Kev C

    You can be gay and fight back without being a macho man. That’s why weapons were invented. To target animals and people larger than themselves. Tool making is what allowed humans to become civilized and successful. Use tools, use weapons, use your brain. That’s evolution.

  • Greg

    @Jase: “Attack”? You do realize we’re discussing kids in the real world, right?

    If anyone from Queerty reaches through your computer screen and literally punches you, do tell us. We promise to put a stop to it.

  • Greg

    @Kev C: That’s crazy. What if the bully has a tool (knife?) and you don’t? Or even if you do? I don’t get what you’re implying here, in a school setting… blind ’em with chalk dust or something?

    And it’s cute that you make the standard gay assumption that gay kids are naturally smarter than the bullies, who you seem to assume all have IQ’s comparable to pit bulls. I’d like to think this is often true, but it’s not invariably so. Again, why is it a poor dumb kid’s responsibility?

  • Steve

    When I was a kid, I was on the receiving end of bullying for a couple years.

    Then I took some karate lessons.

    Shortly after that, the bullying stopped. ;-)

    Kids shouldn’t have to defend themselves in school, of course. But the ability to do so will serve them well. Bullies don’t pick on kids who can fight back effectively.

  • rhenaiya

    I think that Scott Thompson is half right about fighting anti-gay bullies. I say that if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, whether you are a kid or an adult, you first have to survive that situation. If that means punching someone out, then so be it, however if it means running away to fight another day, if it’s going to save you from a beating or worse then run. But here’s where I differ. I think that our community abides far too much of this type of bullying, hell we sit by while our media allows adult bullies to spout complete lies about us, schools allow students to harass queer kids with no real consequences for the offense, there are too many dead lgbt’s to remind us just how real the threat is. What do we do about it besides beat the drums and rant to one another?
    Listen, we are treated as second class humans in what are supposed to be the most free and modern nations on the planet, and if they are free it’s because someone got fucking serious and dealt out some justice. I believe it’s time we do the same. Yes I’m saying fight, when you have to. More importantly I’m saying if our society doesn’t respect us enough to provide us with justice, we have to exact some on our own behalf. Someone fucks with you, maybe not today, maybe not even tomorrow, but take your time and plan it out so you don’t get caught and one day you get them back for what they did. Being passive is nice in theory, but who ever heard of anyone getting their rights by being patient and nice to their enemies? Not everyone who is straight or christian or whatever is a bully or a bigot, but there are monsters out there, if you see one make a mental note. It’s us or them.

  • Kev C

    @Greg: No, use a pen or a pencil and stick it in their eyes or throat. Or pour chemicals into their face, bleach, ammonia, acid, etc. I would actually get the names of the bullies, find out where they lived, and when they leave their house in the morning, taze them unconscious (or stab or shoot them) and mess them up. Thanks for asking.

  • Pete n SFO

    you people have got to be kidding…

    No parent is going to tell their kid to beat on another kid. And if they do, Social Services should open a file on them.

    Don’t buy into the “it’s part of growing up” bullshiz. It’s not.

    Parents have to be the more responsible & make that kid safe; whether that means calling the other parent, or administrators, or whatever. Every situation is different, & sometimes kids are in really backward situations… play smart, do your time, & get the F out. Gay ppl have been doing that for ages.

    Anyone advocating violence, even by kids, is living in a dream world. Long term records, litigation, & actual physical harm, are all that await that misguided notion.

  • Bryan

    I pretty much disagree now and forever with the “man-up” stance. The stupid kids doing the bullying should be the ones made to change.

  • Queer Supremacist

    @Bryan: You’re absolutely right. They should be made to change from “alive” to “dead.”

    This is my message to any gay child reading this sorry excuse for a blog: you have a right to your life. You have a right to be who you are. No one has a right to take your life, and if someone infringes upon your rights it is your right and your duty to fight back by any means necessary, including but not limited to violent self-defense and justifiable homicide.

  • Little Kiwi

    is this like telling the kids who suffer from racial discrimination to try to “act and appear more white”?

    how about wearing lightening makeup so that they can “pass”? Is that the solution or is the solution to, you know, actually address the baseless forms of prejudice that are used to punish those who defy the norms?

    you dont’ tell the bullied kids to behave in a way that the bully would deem acceptable. you punish the bully, not the intended victim.

    “do what i say and i’ll leave you alone” ignores the freakin’ problem.

  • Kev C

    @Bryan: Byran, the reason why the bullies do what they do is because they can get away with it. No one is going to DO anything about it. Not the victims, nor the teachers, the parents, or the police. Complaints and feel-good programs don’t work either. Until someone DOES something to stop it, it goes on and on.

    It’s the basic principle of action: Those who DO, are rewarded. Those who don’t DO, are ignored.

  • wayne

    Thompson’s advice isn’t completely terrible. In fact, it’s no different from the kind of advice a straight dad would give to his straight son if he was being picked on.

  • J

    These bullied kids really need to learn to defend themselves. What self respecting person doesn’t defend themselves when they are being beat up? Gay men always come across as so weak and think that by taking the higher ground they can civil the homophobes. How delusional!

  • J

    These bullied kids really need to learn to defend themselves. What self respecting person doesn’t defend Jthemselves when they are being beat up? Gay men always come across as so weak and think that by taking the higher ground they can civil the homophobes. How delusional!

  • Bee Gaga

    I’m still in high school i came out my freshman year and when i came out i CAME, purse, and everything because that’s just who i am, i was never really bullied until my sophmore year last year when this boy called me a faggot and you know what stopped it when i turned around got in his face nd fought back…he NEVER said anything again and that was the one and ONLY time anyone has tried to bully me so i totally agree when he says fight back, you show people how to treat you if they see they can get away with treating you that way then they will continue to take it farther and farther.

  • Mic

    I agree with Scott Thompson taht gay kids should stand up to theier bullies, physically if need be, but closet themselves?!? Fuck that.

  • Chadboy

    As a former victim of bullies I agree with Scott. I was obviously gay as a kid and to make matters worse my dad was in the military so we moved constantly. I was the gay new kid. Double whammy! In 2nd and 3rd grade I was terrorized by a bully named Charlie. After a year and a half I hauled off and hit him with my SPACE 1999 lunchbox right upside the head. Charlie never bothered me after that.

    Then in 7th and 8th grade my tormentor was named George. He called me names and would push me around and get other kids to join in his “games”….UNTIL one day I snapped and punched George in the face. George was knocked to the floor and guess what? I was celebrated by all the other kids and George never bothered me again. Even my 8th grade English teacher told me she had been waiting all year for me to do that :)

    Physical fighting isn’t my first step, but it is one I will resort to if my friends, family and I aren’t shown respect.

    Bullies only learn when the tables are turned on them.

    And for the record I was a scrawy kid, but it’s amazing what a lunchbox and an unexpected punch can achieve.

  • Jay H

    To be fair, when I did crack and round on my bully, I didn’t even need to use my fists. Just getting visibly furious and shouting the idiot down (I have a powerful voice when I need to) was enough. Being intimidated in front of the whole neighbourhood definitely proved a calming influence.

  • Lex

    I could agree on some things but… WTF? I’m almost positive that if I punched my bullies I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no way I would dare fight five 7 foot tall football playing rednecks. Bullies don’t go down in a single punch. Such ignorant logic.

  • wtf

    McKuntley needs to take her white straight privilege and shut the fuck up. She’s a stupid teabag cunt who blames the victims of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse. Replace her fucking straw man argument with “well girl shouldn’t have worn that outfit and she wouldn’t have been raped” and see how far you get. Anyone who believes anything she has to say about being a gay kid is a moron and just contributes to the bullying. Cuntbag.

  • Dan

    I agree with Rhenaiya (No. 21). If you don’t stand up for your own human rights, others will joyfully trample them.

  • Catherine

    Waiting for other people to change* is not an option.

    Part of growing up for everyone is to learn how to defend oneself. When in a dangerous situation, acting less noticeable is part of the defense.**

    On the other hand, not everyone has the capacity to defend oneself effectively and so must be protected by the stronger among us.***

    * It Gets Better
    ** Priscilla Queen of the Desert
    *** A Few Good Men

  • djp

    The Dutch Children’s Ombudsman (the government advocate for child rights) just launched a provocative campaign about children’s rights. One of the films focuses on the story of a gay teen named Dave who is beaten up every day at school, while his school and teachers do nothing to help him.

    If this is happening in Holland, it is most certainly happening elsewhere in the world! It is a harrowing tale, and Dave stars anonymously in the campaign, which is narrated in his own words.

    Launched earlier this week, the film it is shaking up Holland. The film was just subtitled in English, to stretch awareness beyond Holland. The campaign is all in the name of protecting children.
    You can help simply by:
    1) Viewing the clip
    2) Sharing it with friends or your audience online

    That’s it. We ultimately hope this will build knowledge and increase awareness to help kids in need. It could also lead to initiatives in other countries. Following is the link to the film on YouTube:

  • Johnny

    I know I’m 2 months late, but in the event that anybody reads this: please don’t use Lawrence King as some sort of noble martyr. The guy was sexually harassing the crap out of the fellow who shot him. He is a victim but he’s not a hero.

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