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I am not big on network television. I have never seen “Survivor,” “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives.” My viewing preferences generally consist of programs more on the line of “Tavis Smiley.” “Animal Cops,” “Living with the Kombai Tribe,” “The Dog Whisperer” and of course “The L Word.”
I must admit however that my viewing curiosity was peeked by “Grey’s Anatomy” even before the first episode. Interviews with the creator and executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, an African-American woman, on “News and Notes,” Tavis Smiley and other NPR programs, along with the eclectic casting decisions that seemed to defy traditional stereotypes gave me hope that this would not be just another hospital melodrama. I have watched intermittently, laughed, cried and for the most part enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen.
When the first reports of “trouble on the set” began to appear on the news, I changed channels. It’s television after all and the antics of these noveau riche media divas – Britney, Paris and now Isaiah – to me are hardly news. Then the “gay slur” rumors began, T.R. Knight came reluctantly out of the closet, the denials, the Golden Globe outbursts, reports of therapy, Washington’s firing and/or Knight’s quitting took over everything – the internet, magazines, the news. Even my beloved NPR jumped in the fray with a segment on “Talk of the Nation” asking “Are all slurs equal?” Everyone apologizing, condemning the use of the F, N, C, S, F-Bomb words by Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Isaiah Washington, anyone, as reprehensible.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could send everyone – drunken actors, angry comics, fueding actors, hard core bigots – to a few weeks of therapy where they would learn to just “SAY NO” to the slur, sing a couple of choruses of “Kumbaya,” apologize and the world would be a better place. But it’s going to take a little more than that.
Slurs or name calling are often the first step in the politics of oppression that leads to bullying, discrimination, hatred, phobias even violent hate crimes and sadly it begins early in life. It might be the parent or sibling who belittles the child who is not as smart or pretty. No one thinks of it as slurs or bullying just harmless ribbing but the effects can be devastating.
Sometimes the slurs are directed at a neighbor from a different region, with a different culture, a different race. The victims vary but the effect is the same and youth learn it is OK to call names, ostracize and bully others.
The seed is planted at home but continues in school. To the small, the weak, the fat, the different, the gay child it is not “harmless ribbing.” Although there is no legal definition of bullying, a lot of young people have a good idea of what bullying is because they see it every day! It’s tormenting others through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion including manipulation. Usually, bullying happens over and over.
In the 1990s, the United States saw an epidemic of school shootings. Many of the children behind these shootings claimed that they were victims of bullying and that they resorted to violence only after the school administration repeatedly failed to intervene. Many more, unable to take anymore of the slurs, pushing, shoving or isolation took their own lives. Bullying isn’t just a childhood right of passage. It is dangerous, it is damaging, and it leads to real consequences including suicide and depression.
Across the country parents, school boards, advocacy organizations are recognizing that to end bullying in the workplace and communities has to start at schools and must include LGBT youth.
In Michigan, Matt’s Safe Schools Law will protect all students regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation or gender identity. Every single young person including LGBT youth who walks through the doors of a Michigan school will be protected. On March 28, Triangle Foundation will lead hundreds of volunteer lobbyists to Lansing to tell their state representatives and senators one thing: “Make our schools safe.”
Passage of this law would be a huge step in ending the bullying but the first small steps begin at home. Racism, homophobia, discrimination, bullying and slurs must be unacceptable, not tolerated and cleansed from our families, communities, politics, and yes, even entertainers and other media divas who, like it or not are sending messages on life, to our children.
So take that first step at home, in your neighborhood and workplace and start a real conversation on diversity, equality and social justice. Then on March 28, step out of your comfort zone and up to Lansing and tell your representative and senators to “Make our schools safe.”
As for Grey’s Anatomy, don’t fire Washington and don’t allow Knight to quit or change his character one iota. He is an actor and yes a gay man can play a straight intern.
Then next season introduce a hunky gay male surgeon (let’s say played by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson). Washington’s character, Burke, will work side by side with Dr. McGayguy. He will come to respect him as a colleague, like him as a friend and yes be attracted to him.
The next season would follow Burke’s love for McGayguy and eventual coming out. Now that would be real therapy and an acting challenge for Washington.
Now, I’d call that must-see TV and tune in.