The Obama administration has not exactly been vocal in speaking out against bullying in general or the recent suicides of gay teens. In searching for the president’s stance on these issues, I came across this question he was asked at a Town Hall (sponsored by MTV) last week: What can you do, if anything, to put a stop to these vicious attacks over the Internet while preserving our rights to freedom of speech?
President Obama gave a sort of vaguely philosophical response, dodging the real issue of government intervention in cyberattacks. He indicated, however, that there’s a cultural and moral issue at hand here, as well as a legislative one, saying:
The law is a powerful thing but the law doesn’t always change what’s in people’s hearts. And so all of us have an obligation to think about how we’re treating other people. And what we may think is funny or cute may end up being powerfully hurtful…. And so I think there’s also a values component to this that all of us have to be in a serious conversation about. Because ultimately peer pressure can lead people to bully, but peer pressure can also say bullying is not acceptable.
Which is where the “It Gets Better” campaign comes in. As I reported last week, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns gave one of the most personal, heartfelt, passionate It Gets Better speeches to date – in the middle of a city council meeting – to a standing ovation from his peers. So while I admire Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attempt to be a spokesperson on this issue for the administration, her recently recorded “It Gets Better” video pales in comparison to those made by people who have lived through and triumphed over the kind of bullying that drives kids to the end of their rope.
As you know, Clinton is a mother, and as such, I believe she’s sincere in her efforts here. But what the country really needs the Obama administration to do to let GLBT youth know that it gets better is to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was declared unconstitutional this month, then reinstated by the Court of Appeals.
Obama stated in his MTV Town Hall meeting that he “agree(s) with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve. And they shouldn’t have to lie about who they are in order to serve.” He says, “This policy will end and it will end on my watch. But I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.” Apparently he has a problem with the idea of laws being changed by the Supreme Court instead of Congress, but as the civil rights movement has shown, major social changes sometimes require court involvement.
Ann Friedman at Feministing says of Clinton’s video:
I was disappointed by the passivity of her message. I wish she had pledged to push her boss — who has dragged his feet on changing policies while many major gay-rights battles have played out in the courts instead — to increase opportunities for LGBTQ Americans. After all, Hillary has much more political power than most people contributing to this video campaign. While she can claim some successes, there’s still a very long way to go toward ensuring that it does, in fact, get better.