Culture War Victims

Progress 23/8/11

With the ‘top tier’ of the GOP now almost certainly set, two of the three candidates, Governor Rick Perry and Representative Michele Bachmann come from the religious right of the party, especially on social issues.

As a newcomer to the USA seeing such culture wars around moral and social ethics in the public sphere is fascinating as well as perplexing. For a country built on the separation of church and state, the social agenda on LGBT rights, abortion, family values and the candidates’ own churches flies in the face of the founders’ own vision.

Yet in the never ending electoral cycles of the USA, the issues dominate in the public discourse, as people wish to see their own morality legislate on a federal level. For a country where freedom is paramount this paradox seems lost on many. It makes for great debates, yet the victims of these culture wars are real, often vulnerable young people.

One of the real stories of the last few weeks was not found in Iowa, Wall Street or Washington DC but in a Minnesota school district. With nine teen suicides and many more attempts state officials have put a “suicide contagion area” label on the district.

One of the commonalities among some of these young people deaths, and others suicide attempts, have been that they have been subjects of gay bullying. Homophobic bullying sadly is something still all too common in classrooms across the world. However, the culture wars in the USA are blocking many solutions to this problem and in some cases exacerbating the problem.

This school district happens to be in Bachmann’s constituency and is ground zero in the culture wars about LGBT education in schools. Bachmann’s own husband runs mental health clinics that allegedly try and ‘pray away the gay’ and her biggest supporters have managed to enforce a school policy of neutrality of LGBT issues in the school. This has hampered teachers’ ability to deal with the issue.

Bachmann this past week has pushed for a repealing of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ in the military, taking the neutrality principle in her school district and placing it in the US armed forces only months after it had been abolished.

When national public figures stress that your lifestyle has no healthy place in society and attempt to create an environment where your problems are airbrushed out of the educational system, the problems with supporting teens in crisis become evident.

This round of culture wars looks to be especially vicious but might also be a turning point if the electorate reflects the current national polling on these issues. For the first time the majority of Americans are in favour of gay marriage and for a long time the public has been behind Roe vs Wade. While the economy will dominate the election, social issues have a way of pushing the vitally important independent voters one way or another.

In the meantime, we need to try and support these young people at these often-difficult times in their lives. There has never been a more important time to support It Gets Better, a project founded to help young teens through some of the hardest times in their life.

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