Posted by: Catherine Lugg | November 10, 2010

Bullied to Bits

Roughly 20 years ago when I was living in Iowa I witnessed the aftermath of a horrific traffic accident involving a driver not wearing a seatbelt and a fully-loaded gravel truck. Let it suffice that the scattered body parts on I-35, glistening in the brilliant fall sunlight, left a lasting impression.

So, that’s where my mind went when I read of the suicide of Brandon Bitner, aged all of 14. Bitner, who had been chronically bullied by his homophobic and heterosexist peers in his Pennsylvania High School, stepped in front of a tractor-trailer at 3 AM on November 5, 2010. According to one report, it took three hours to clear the scene. Well, yes, I can quite imagine what that scene looked like, with glistening bits of Brandon scattered here and there, spread across the intersection of Routes 11 and 15. I can imagine the horrific job confronting the police, fire department and other emergency responders who had to “clear the scene” and do so in a way that left something–anything–recognizable for Brandon’s family to mourn. And Bitner’s funeral is today.

In many, many ways, Brandon Bitner was literally bullied to bits by his classmates who took their cues from the homophobic culture in which they are being raised. Just a few days prior to his suicide, Bitner’s high school, Midd-West, held an assembly on bullying, which was treated as a joke by the target population–students. Clearly, the message the students received was at such variance to their daily lives that they could mock and dismiss it, like they did Brandon and ultimately, Brandon’s life.

Which brings me to a larger political and cultural point: To combat the lethal homophobia in US society, you must educate public schoolchildren DIRECTLY about queer people and our lives–just like they learn about non-queer people.* Why many of the current responses to the suicides of queer youth fail so utterly is because schools, colleges and universities (including Rutgers, alas) want to respond to “bullying” in general, in a rather abstract fashion instead the homophobic bullying that is actually occurring. Leaders of public educational institutions, in particular, are so politically gutless that they de-queer the very issue they claim to be addressing. They are terrified of upsetting the homophobic taxpayers who fund the schools, and so only the most tepid, de-queered responses will do. It’s all very symbolic and completely ineffective.

So, there will be more Brandon Bitners, queer youths who will fling themselves in front of speeding tractor-trailers–queers who will be literally bullied to bits–because that horrific and painful death is still preferable to the pain they receive in their homophobic educational institutions supported by me and you.

*There will be more to come on this point. I’m developing a queer educational manifesto. Seriously.

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Responses

  1. […] straw that broke the camels back Jump to Comments Read this post about Brandon Bitner.* His death was part of a staggering statistic.  Part of a social epidemic […]

  2. […] too bad AREA adamantly refuses lift a finger when queer kids are being abused and bullied to death in US public schools and other educational settings. In the midst of the rampant bullycides of Fall […]

  3. […] queer kids need us–all of us–flawed as we all are. They are being bullied, beaten and killed by a world that hates them and wants them dead. They desperately need us to tell the truth, to be visible, so they can understand that there are […]


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