Focus on the Family Goes to Bat for Bullies

In the world of lawmaking, some proposed laws are right to invite debate and controversy. But then there are, on rare occasions, proposed laws that seem like no-brainers. Take, for example, the Safe Schools Improvement Act now pending in Congress that would prevent bullying in schools. The bill defines bullying as “conduct placing students in reasonable fear of physical harm.” The law covers harassment based on race, color, national origin, disability, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

Who would be against a law that seeks to end bullying in school? Enter Focus on the Family.

It is, of course, that last classification that has caught the attention of FotF. They claim that the inclusion of sexual orientation in the bill is a ploy by gay rights activists to push acceptance of homosexuality in schools, according to a report on ABC News.

“What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing,” Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on the recently launched Web site

Cushman appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 Wednesday night on CNN, and tried to put a pretty face on their efforts, saying: “We absolutely think every child should be protected from bullying.”

She went on to try to explain, and this is where I began to wonder if conservative Christians ever really listen to themselves when they speak—because she hit the nail on the head, but, unfortunately, it was her own head.

“The correct focus would be on preventing the wrong actions of the bully, not focusing on the characteristics of the victims because it doesn’t matter why the victim was targeted. What matters is that harming them is wrong for any reason,” she said.

Okay, let’s focus on how to prevent “the wrong actions of the bully” for just one moment. I can find no evidence that there is any manner of widespread bullying of Christian kids by gay or lesbian kids. There are no stories of Christian kids killing themselves after being hounded by gay kids about their religion. There are no stories of Christian kids being pushed down on the playground and called “dirty Christ lover.”

No, all the stories of bullying seem to involve kids, some probably from good Christian homes, calling other kids “faggot,” or “queer,” or “fairy,” or “dyke.” One must wonder where they learn these words, and where they learn that being any of these things is shameful, sinful, or wrong. Most likely they hear it from their parents, or from their churches.

So if we are going to focus on “the wrong actions of the bully,” let’s start by focusing on where bullies learn that being gay is wrong. They learn it in their good Christian homes from their good Christian parents or from their good Christian pastors. I will believe that FotF is really, truly, interested in addressing “the wrong actions of the bully” when they launch an effort within their own ranks to encourage parents not to teach their potential little bullies that it’s wrong or disgusting or shameful to be gay. The only way to correct “the wrong actions of the bully” is to educate them on the reality of gay and lesbian children—that they exist and that God still loves them and that beating them up or calling them names is wrong, and God would not approve.

But wait… that might play into the gay agenda of promoting tolerance and acceptance of gay and lesbian people… and that’s exactly what FotF is trying to prevent. So, please, tell me, how would they ever correct “the wrong actions of the bully” if they’re not willing to prevent him from becoming a bully in the first place? It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw years ago that read: “Focus on your own damn family.” If you don’t want homophobic bullies running around, then for heaven’s sake, stop raising them!

Reality, however, is never the strong suit for FotF and its cohorts. Remember, these are the people who feel okay sending their children into the sexually charged atmosphere of high school armed with nothing more than a simple purity pledge, even though studies have shown them to ineffective.

So, it was no shock to see Cushman continuing to use broad platitudes to deny reality during the interview.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, made it clear that “when school level policies actually mention sexual orientation and gender identity, rates of bullying and harassment go down, and this is for all students.” There’s no agenda here, only policies based on data that shows what works.

FotF’s approach may sound nice, said Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book Queen Bees and Wannabees, but generic bullying policies simply don’t work.

“We can have policies about ideal reality or we can have policies that are about concrete reality and reflect what children are experiencing, and that’s when we become relevant to young people. If we don’t then it doesn’t work,” she said.

By focusing on the bully, Wiseman said, it becomes a matter of the victim’s word against the word of the bully, and if FotF gets its way and strips specific categories from anti-bullying laws, the victim won’t even be able to use the words necessary to describe what they were being bullied about.

“If you take out the language of naming the behavior, then it becomes so amorphous that there’s no place for that kid to define what is happening to them. These words are not allowed to be talked about and they become silenced,” Wiseman said.

Which really is the whole point of FotF’s campaign—driving gay and lesbian people so far back into the closet that they are completely silenced. If kids are forbidden by law to say the words that the bullies are allowed to say to harass them, then they will simply shut up and take the abuse, and the whole issue of having to deal with gays and lesbians as human beings goes away. Problem solved!

Cushman, however, kept relentlessly missing the point and denying simple reality. As proof she actually had the nerve to say: “All human beings are created in God’s image and they deserve to be protected because they are a human being uniquely created by God with innate dignity and worth, and not because of how they identify sexually.”

Honestly, could she even hear herself? If she and FotF truly believed that, and encouraged conservative Christian parents to actually teach that to their potential bullies in training, then there would be no need for anti-bullying legislation. But, that would require a reality check, and we know, in the world of the religious right, those always bounce.