Seanad: Statements on Homophobic Bullying
On Monday, we flagged up the Statements on Homophobic Bullying that was scheduled for 3.45pm yesterday. Doubtless most of you took a half day off and stood in anxious groups around laptops for the live stream of this ground breaking stuff. Ok, probably not. But we did, so here are the highlights for those of you missed it.
Lynch mob’s the Seanad
‘Statements’ is a bit misleading, it was really a ‘statement’. Deputy Kathleen Lynch, speaking on behalf of herself and the Minister for Justice and Equality Deputy Alan Shatter thanked Senators Norris and Zappone for proposing the discussion (we missed Zappone’s contribution in our research for Mondays piece – sorry!) and she had the following things to say about homophobic bullying.
Tolerance of homophobic bullying is simply not compatible with respect for the intrinsic dignity of each human being.
Amen. Good start, Deputy Lynch, we’re all cheering your name.
Then she began talking about ‘robust teasing’ and ‘banter’ and its important place in Irish society.
It has an important place in social interaction, in building camaraderie and friendships. It can nudge us out of depression, help us see the funny side of situations, think more optimistically and can add enormously to the quality of life.
True certainly, in my house we can go weeks at a time without a sincere sentence, but in a statement about homophobic bullying? For a minute there, I didn’t know what to think.
After stopping briefly for refreshments at Sure We’re Only Having A Laugh Avenue, Lynch hit the road again. She was, to be fair, very quick to acknowledge that what one person feels is banter can be very damaging to another (as my mammy used to lecture us, “It’s only fun if everyone enjoyed it”) and she reminded her Oireachtas colleagues that
the ground-breaking 2009 survey of Irish LGBT people, Supporting LGBT Lives, found that to avoid being threatened or called abusive names by work colleagues, almost one in ten respondents had missed work.
When we talk about bullying most of us usually picture school children, so I thought that this was a particularly thought provoking example to use.
Bully for her
Next she spoke a bit about the legal definitions of bullying and harrassment, where the “fine dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour” is deemed to be. Most of us have only a gut-instinct understanding of bullying and harrassment so it was interesting for me to get a sense of how the law has codified tricky subjects like harrassment (apparently a once-off incidendent that undermines ‘the individual’s right to dignity’ can be harrassment).
These are powerful definitions. They make it quite clear that certain kinds of behaviour are totally unacceptable in law. This is not because of any concerns of political correctness. Such kinds of behaviour are unacceptable precisely because they are harmful, both to the individuals targeted and to wider society. This point should by now be beyond dispute.
Though I had cringed slightly at the earlier part of her statment, I increasingly warmed to Lynch while she talked and she certainly takes no prisoners in her closing sentences.
We know that bullying and harassment cause harm… heightened levels of psychological distress arising from stigmatisation and harassment, leading to significant levels of self-harm and thoughts of suicide. Being physically threatened or attacked, or experiencing homophobic bullying in schools, were identified as risk factors for those who attempted suicide. Recent research from the United States goes further, and suggests identity-based bullying, such as homophobic bullying, impacts more severely on the victim than other forms of bullying.
Bullying is an issue very close to my heart, and I’m glad to see it given due attention, but I feel like this could have done better. Deputy Kathleen Lynch said some powerful things, and some very important things, but most of them were about bullying in general rather than specifics about homophobic bullying. So why just homophobic bullying?
The research that she references Supporting LGBT Lives was about all LGBT people, not just those where are gay, and I suspect that those harrassment figures were pushed up by the trans* people in our community. Under the LGBT umbrella, the L and G are best sheltered. I’m glad our Senators and TDs have copped on to how damaging and unacceptable homophobic bullying is, but I feel like it’s biphobia and transphobia that really needs a government seal of disapproval.
The full transcript of Deputy Lynch’s statment is here.