Has bullying become a hatecrime? (Jamey Rodemeyer)

23 Sep

I have, like many of you, learned recently of the tragic death of Jamey Rodemeyer. He was just 14 years old. As someone who’s been trying to support the It gets better campaign for some time, this was a terrible blow.

For those of you who do not already know, the It gets better campaign is a US born campaign led predominantly by members of the LGBT community and has recently become international. It involves members of the public and celebrities and politicians telling their own stories of overcoming adversity and giving young people, those struggling with this discrimination and harassment the message to hang on, because it gets better; because life gets better. So the campaign is also seeking to end homophobia and bullying once and for all and I’m behind that with every fibre of my being.

Jamey himself was bullied immensely due to his sexuality, in my opinion an absurd reason to single someone out, but the real tragic part of this whole story is that he got the message of the it gets better campaign. He made his own youtube video to spread the message himself, but in the end he was still bullied and it killed him. It saddens me more than you would believe to know this. Even his idol Lady GaGa with her extraordinarily high profile message in this campaign couldn’t prevent this from happening to one of her little monsters,  being moved to the point of tears for the horror of it all. Believe me I can empathise.

Lady GaGa said “Bullying must become be illegal. It is a hate crime“. This is the first time I know of that this point was made as aggressively as this. Is it a hate crime?

Whether hate is done out of hate or dislike or for thrills, its certainly done out of malice. There’s a point that I’ve been making for a while that bullying is about segregation, its about making others different from you and using a pack mentality of superiority to subject someone to degrading treatment. Big labels of homosexuality make this easy, with huge caricatures and sweeping generalisations to ease the way, its discrimination on its lowest, most common level, we’ve all seen it, we’ve all witnessed it. Someone bullying someone else. The vast majority of people see it as abhorrent and wrong, but really; have you ever stopped and thought about it this way? Is it not exactly the same mentality of hateful discrimination we see elsewhere, somehow we look at schools and think, these kids don’t know any better and think that this is in some way less harmful than racist jibes in the street or homophobic condemnation from public figures, but really its the same isn’t it?

Bullying in my mind should be illegal for this reason and we should be tougher on it. Not to say that friends don’t tease each other, I tease mine and they tease me, but the love I have for my friends is much greater, if ever I caused hurt it would have never been intentional and I would always seek to make it up to them and never do it again. But there’s the difference isn’t there? Malice… But even then its not that simple, how many of Jamey Rodemeyer’s bullies are saying to themselves and their parents that they didn’t mean it? That there was no malice? This doesn’t sit right with me, because I doubt very much that they didn’t know, some of what they were doing was hurtful to him.

As for hate crime, I’m not wild about telling people what they can and cannot think when they make any action in their life. Having read George Orwell’s 1984, the nightmare prospect of thought crime is terrifying to me, not to mention horrifyingly illiberal. But even this is problematic in a practical sense, because does that mean that the ones who bullied him for thrills, who didn’t care about his homosexuality but joined in anyway, used it as an excuse to bullying him for a laugh are any less guilty than the homophobes? In my mind no. Nothing, ever gives you the right to treat someone in this way.

For a matter of humility, there are all people that we do not like, often there are groups we cannot stand, but there’s a lesson there about tolerance. To take a lesson from John Stuart Mill, they are free to do what they like until it causes harm to someone else and we know for certain that bullying causes harm.

So am I happy to just comment on this?

No. This to me, is not an exercise in Charlie Brooker’s “oh dear-ism”. I want this ended. In the US and the UK and frankly, across the globe. So I’m going to keep supporting the It gets better campaign and Stonewall here in the UK. Aside from pledging to support Joel Burns and other supporters of the it gets better campaign in the US any way I can, over here in the UK, I’m going to everything I can.

Stonewall are leading this fight in the UK and I’ve pledged to support them, they’ve asked if Northamptonshire County Council will sign up to their campaign to end homophobia and bullying in schools by becoming Education Champions. This, to give our schools access to incredible resources and training for our teachers to compliment the good work they are already doing. For the cost of £1250, for the entire county… For that money, I’ll pay it out of my own empowerment fund if needs be, the other 72 councillors can thank me later. But I swear I will see this done, I will see an end to discrimination and bullying in our schools and wherever else I find it. I will not let Jamey and the others that have suffered in his place, suffer in vain. Enough is enough.

It gets better. It will get better, I promise…


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