Swier, who has a radio show in Sarasota, Florida, is a minor figure on the far right and uses his influence to advance all of the worst aspects of the tea party movement. As Vice President of United West.org, he warns his readers about the threat Shariah Islam (sic) poses to the US Constitution.* At Red County, he encourages his readers to boycott Disney because their new Pixar movie Cars 2 is eco propaganda. At Tea Party Nation, he despairs because the White Protestant character of the US is going extinct as brown immigrants flood the country. But, what makes him stand out from the ranks of third-tier right wing extremists is his unblushing defense of bullying.
Bullying among children and teens has been around forever. Usually, the grown-up response has been to ignore it, dismiss the importance of it, and occasionally even encourage it. Only very recently have the adults who have the responsibility for protecting kids begun to offer more than tepid disapproval for bullying. As the anti-bullying movement was gaining steam in the US, many people were made aware of the problem by several suicides of young gay people getting wide coverage by the press. These suicides have had mixed results for the anti-bullying movement. On the one hand, they dramatized the seriousness of the problem. On the other hand, they inextricably tied the movement, in many peoples' minds to LGBT civil rights.
Public support of anti-bullying efforts has almost exactly paralleled that of hate crime legislation. On the face of it, hate crimes legislation should not be controversial. Everyone belongs to a group someone else hates, whether it is their race, religion, age, sex, class, state of health, or club membership. When a person is attacked for being part of a group, it goes beyond an attack on that one person; it becomes an attack on that group. Burning a cross in an African American family's yard is more than vandalizing their lawn; it an effort to intimidate all blacks and tell them that they are not welcome there. It is terrorism writ small. Hate crime laws add additional time to the sentence of someone guilty of such an attack on a group.** Hate crime legislation ran into resistance only when some of the sponsors of the legislation tried to add sexual preference to the list of characteristics vulnerable to hate crimes.
Now that anti-bullying efforts have become identified as an LGBT issue, the religious right is using the same fear inducing tactics they used to rally their supporters against hate crime legislation. Anti-bullying, they argue, is a sinister wedge by which the radical homosexual agenda will teach our kids homosexuality. They claim the legislation will ban all speech critical of gays. They darkly warn that Christianity itself could be criminalized (making the unstated claim that their particular hateful interpretation represents all Christianity). Opposition to hate crime legislation and anti-bullying have become an article of faith on the religious right and, through their influence, an article of faith in the Republican Party. Google around for a few minutes and you'll see that I'm not exaggerating.
So far, most religious conservatives have contented themselves with opposing anti-bullying programs. Rich Swier takes things one step further, he argues that bullying--at least of gays--is a good thing. Swier is outraged that the group Gulf Coast Gives raised money to bring "homosexual activist" Hudson Taylor (a straight athlete) to Sarasota to give a talk about bullying of LGBT kids. Swier sets his argument up this way:
The problem is the entire bullying campaign is a sham created by radical gay activist Kevin Jennings. ... As MassResistance.org reports, "The homosexual movement in the public schools has always been based on lies and deception. But until the mid-1990s, they were still having difficulty getting into the schools. Then they found the key to their huge success -- what they call 're-framing the issue'".
So what does "re-framing the issue" mean?
It means changing the dialogue from homosexuality is bad behavior to bullying homosexuals is even worse behaior.(sic)
Swier then quotes from a 1995 presentation by Jennings that he believes reveals the plot by the "homosexual movement" to get to our kids through the school system.
"In Massachusetts the effective reframing of this issue was the key to the success of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. We immediately seized upon the opponent's calling card--safety--and explained how homophobia represents a threat to students' safety by creating a climate where violence, name-calling, health problems, and suicide are common. Titling our report 'Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth,' we automatically threw our opponents onto the defensive and stole their best line of attack. This framing short-circuited their arguments and left them back-pedaling from day one.
We know that, confronted with real-life stories of youth who had suffered from homophobia, our opponents would have to attack people who had already been victimized once, which put them in a bully position from which it would be hard to emerge looking good. More importantly, we made sure these youth met with elected officials so that, the next time these officials had to vote on something, there would be a specific face and story attached to the issue. We wanted them to have an actual kid in mind when they had to cast their votes.
"This," Swier concludes, "is not bullying. It is peer pressure and is healthy." What is "this?" The only behavior aimed at LGBT kids up to that point in his piece is violence and name-calling. Swier apparently thinks these activities are healthy peer pressure. He continues: "There are many bad behaviors such as smoking, under age (sic) drinking and drug abuse that are behaviors that cannot be condoned. Homosexuality falls into this category." I'm sure we all remember in high school when the concerned jocks went around beating up kids who drank in order to lovingly remind them that such behaviors cannot be condoned.
Swier likes his essay. He published it at Red County, Tea Party Nation ran it as an editorial (no link, registration required), and he pasted a version of it in the comments at Gulf Coast Gives. However far his influence reaches, he has now provided anti-gay bigots with an argument that bullying is a good thing. What will kids think when they hear so-called adults claiming that bullying is healthy peer pressure? Whether or not they believe it, how many bullies will be tempted to try it out as a justification for behavior that should not be condoned?
LGBT kids are not the only kids who are bullied. Bullies target anyone who is vulnerable and a little different. Black kids, poor kids, nerds, fat kids, new kids, those who don't speak English very well, the handicapped, the unattractive, the short, the unathletic, and the shy are all subject to torment. In order to continue expressing their disapproval of gays, conservatives will gladly throw all these kids under the bus and return to the traditional "kids will be kids" dismissal of the very real psychological and physical terror that is inflicted on the bullied.
Society among school age kids is made up of various binary distinctions: jocks vs. nerds, popular kids vs. unpopular kids, the demographic majority vs. minorities, kids who come from over here vs. kids who come from over there, bullies vs. the bullied. Which of the last two do you think Rich Swier was?
NOTE: I have made some grammatical corrections and rearranged two paragraphs for better clarity since first posting this piece.
* Appropriately, the animated globe at the center of United West's logo is spinning backwards. They also have a poll on the Islamic threat that you might want to crash.
** Extra sentences, based on context, are nothing new. Murder of a political leader is called assassination and is treated as more serious than other murders. Punching a fireman in the nose during a bar brawl is nowhere as serious as punching a fireman in the nose while he's trying to put out a fire.