Posted by: Catherine Lugg | September 30, 2010

Bullying, harassing, and beating queers in hopes of self-extermination

For the past 14 years, I have been impressed by the calm tolerance of the Rutgers University undergraduate population. New Jersey is the most religiously diverse state in the US, and is fabulously diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and SES. There’s an ease with this diversity that I don’t see in many other campuses. Case in point: About six years ago I was on the job market and had just interviewed at a major university in the US South. But I found the campus to be far too white, too Protestant, too upper middle class, and too non-queer for me ever to be comfortable. By contrast, after that interview, on my first day back on Rutgers’ College Avenue Campus I saw a young drag queen of color happily chatting with two young women in hijab outside of the student center. It was a friendly, bantering conversation that young people who’ve known each other for a while have. I was struck that, “Yes, this is how the world should be,” and “how lucky I am to teach here.”

So, the cyber harassment and sexual humiliation of Tyler Clementi by his roommate and a neighbor, and Tyler’s subsequent suicide, have shaken me to my core. Unlike my partner, who is a proud Rutgers grad (MSW), I’ve been too shocked to cry. The mindless vicious and adolescent treatment of Tyler has me reexamining my assumptions about my place of employment. I would have fully expected this to happen at Penn State (where I received my Ph.D. in 1995), a university that has historically been horrifically hateful towards queer people (see Rene Portland--a cruel and viciously homophobic women’s basketball coach). Obviously, I’ve been kidding myself.

At present, it seems like there is a lot of cultural hate being hurled at queers, and gay young men in particular. Since September, there have been at least 4 other young men who have killed themselves for being queer or perceived as queer. There is Asher Brown, age 13, who blew his brains out. Justin Aaberg, age 15, Billy Lucas, age 15 and Seth Walsh, age 13, all hanged themselves. All four young men had experienced chronic and vicious harassment in their public school settings. And all of their parents had demanded the schools do something–to no avail.

Meanwhile, Tyler Wilson, who is a 6th grade male cheerleader, was verbally harassed, knocked down, and had his arm broken by two classmates this month. While his orientation doesn’t seem to be an issue, Tyler has completely violated some long-standing US gender norms as to who can be a football cheerleader. He still may need surgery to fully repair his arm and the bullies are now threatening to break his other arm because he reported them.

Then, there is the case of Assistant Attorney General of Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, who seems to be obsessively harassing/stalking the University of Michigan’s student body president, Chris Armstrong, because he is “teh first gay student body president.” Shirvell is making spectacularly unhinged accusations against Armstrong in hopes of driving Armstrong out of office. Since Michigan doesn’t protect queer identity, the most that has been done to protect Armstrong from this homophobic loon is that UM banned Shirvell from campus. But at least at for the moment, Shirvell still has his state job and his platform for spewing hateful lies.

Clearly, in each case, the object of vicious scorn, humiliation, and beating has been a young man who is perceived as gay, or who is out, and/or gender non-conforming. In our horrifically homophobic culture, queer identity in general, and male queer identity in particular, must be exterminated. So, we’ve seen 5 suicides of young men in the month of September, at least those that were reported. Furthermore, each suicide was the result of ill-treatment in public educational settings. Not to make too fine a point, but the parents of these young men all paid taxes that covered the cost of the buildings where their sons were abused–and in five cases–until death.

Now, AERA, IES, DOE (the US Department of Education) and President Obama may not find these cases of violence and then the suicides of any particular importance. These young men, after all, were merely queers, not REAL Americans, with identities that count in federal databases. Nor do they generate enough Ns (numbers) to merit statistical significance. But these young men all have families and friends who love them dearly. And their lives, as well as all of our lives, are much the worse for their brutal deaths.

Furthermore, what actions will AERA, IES, DOE and President Obama take to ensure Tyler Wilson and Chris Armstrong have the same rights, protections and recognitions that Mr. Shivell enjoys? Oh yeah, that’s right. AERA doesn’t DO politics. IES, DOE and President Obama? Well, protecting queers isn’t exactly their hope or change for the US.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath that anything changes in the near future. I fear that this school year is turning out to be the year of the dead queer.



  1. Catherine,
    You did your part. You felt. You thought. You got loud. And you wrote.

    It sucks to feel and not know if you are making a difference. It sucks to believe that young men and women should be free to learn and to grow despite their love, but don’t b/c of their love.

    I love knowing that my friend, Ken, led me to you. I love knowing that you make a difference b/c you show up.
    At best, let’s all keep showing up. For love, for diversity, for growth.

  2. Well, it looks like Shirvell has been suspended from his job. I hope Armstrong gets that order of protection. He might just need it now that Shirvell is in professional hot water for his stalking of Armstrong. See

  3. […] not sure what’s going on, but it seems to be “open season” on gay men. This is just an appalling […]

  4. […] committed suicide this fall. And unfortunately, a familiar trope is being resurrected, that of the “poor, tortured, and dysfunctional queer.” In some instances, you can almost hear the not-quite-voiced sentiment of, “but of course they […]

  5. […] in front of speeding tractor-trailers–queers who will be literally bullied to bits–because that horrific pain and death is still preferable to the pain they receive in their homophobic educational institutions supported by me and […]

  6. […] requirements, mandates for professional development and so forth. So, although the death of Tyler Clementi was invoked, not much will change in higher […]

  7. […] Lugg, C.  (2010, September 30).  Bullying, harrassing, and beating queers in hope of self-extermination.  Thinking queerly (blog).  Retrieved from… […]

  8. […] queer youth suicide for a long time, reeling out the absolute dismal statistics on queer identity, the staggering risks for bullying,  abuse and violence, and the possible political and policy responses. The dismal data on queer suicide has been around […]

  9. […] Morgan made his remarks. For decades, queer kids have been killing themselves in response to the lethal homophobia they encounter at home, at school, in their places of worship, and in their neighborhoods. […]

  10. […] DOE and the Death of Seth Walsh In September of 2010, Seth Walsh hanged himself after experiencing severe and persistent gender and sexual orientation-based […]

  11. […] knuckle-dragging homophobe. That said, I do believe that he videoed Clementi having gay sex because he was contemptuous of Clementi precisely because Clementi was a gay man. And acting on that contempt, which is homophobic, in NJ, in conjunction with the other easily […]

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