Why Dan Savage’s Call to Redefine “Duggar” Will Only Further Hurt Josh Duggar’s Victims

Dan Savage. CC image courtesy of Flickr, soundfromwayout.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The Duggar family tragedy has received widespread media attention over the last couple weeks. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.

The tragedy has prompted claims of hypocrisy due to the fact that both Michelle and her son have repeatedly decried LGBT* people as potential child molesters when in fact her son — held up by the Religious Right as a paragon defender of traditional family values — was an actual molester, according to a recently revealed police report. Even more ironic is that Jim Bob Duggar, during his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate, called for executing sex offenders during the exact same time period in which Josh allegedly was committing sex crimes against fellow children.

The plight of the five young girls has provoked a vast array of responses, with conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Matt Walsh jumping on soap boxes to defend Josh and liberals like Mike Luckovich gleefully asking the Internet to redefine “Duggar” in a way that invokes sexual abuse. In the midst of all these reactions, sex columnist Dan Savage offered a moment of sanity and compassion on NBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. On the show, Savage gave the sober reminder that, “We have to remember as we talk about this that five little girls — at least five little girls — were abused and molested and there’s nothing here to take delight in or celebrate.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dan Savage on this point. Because not only am I a survivor of child sexual abuse, I am also a homeschool alumnus who was homeschooled in a Christian environment my entire life, much like the five young girls and their attacker. I also am the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and education about child abuse, mental illness, and other issues within Christian homeschooling. My work has led me to connect with hundreds of homeschool children and graduates around the United States who have experienced abuse within homeschooling, much like Josh’s victims. And our collective pain is not funny nor should it be reduced to punch lines by the media. I appreciate that Savage realizes the seriousness of the situation.

This is why I was surprised today to see Savage has now joined in the call to redefine “Duggar.” Savage previously experienced great success with redefining “Santorum” to cleverly punch up at Rick Santorum’s anti-LGBT stances, a moment in Internet history that I found humorous.

However, Santorum never faced charges of abusing other people in his family who share his last name. But Josh Duggar does.

I do not want to further violate Josh’s victims’ privacy (In Touch did a good enough job with that). So suffice it to say that several of Josh’s victims also share the name “Duggar.” Which means that these efforts to brand Josh with his crimes will also brand all of his victims with a permanent reminder of the horrendous pain inflicted upon them.

For homeschool alumni like myself, the Duggar tragedy is a watershed moment for us. We have fought for several years now to bring attention to the abuses and problems within religious homeschooling. While we have had some minor successes, it has taken the sex crimes of a television star to thoroughly break down the walls and shine a light upon the rotten nature of these high-control, Christian educational subcultures. For some of us, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s bittersweet that it took this — five young girls being molested — for the U.S. at large to finally care about our and our younger peers’ plights.

The very least that the media can do — and the very least that celebrities like Dan Savage should do — is handle these stories (our stories) with compassion and sensitivity towards survivors and victims. Please don’t make our pain into punch lines and please don’t start campaigns to permanently brand fellow survivors with memories of their attackers. Put your energy instead into further helping us expose what’s going on behind the doors of many Christian homeschooling families.

Help us bring to light the fact that just because a homeschooling family is on TV, all smiles and politeness, doesn’t mean that family is safe.

Homeschoolers Are Out: An Introduction

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

*****

“You’re homeschooled? That’s gay.”

I was probably 5 or 6 when a neighborhood kid who attended public school first articulated the idea that me being homeschooled was “gay.” Of course, nothing about my parents’ decision to teach me at home had anything to do with homosexuality. Plus I’m straight. But that’s not what the kid meant, was it?

What that kid meant was that homeschooling was stupid, and stupid things are gay things, thus equating gayness with stupidity. That kid was also 5 or 6. I have not had contact with him since we played games in the middle of our quiet, suburban street in San Jose, California so many years ago. For all I know, he might now be an outspoken straight advocate for marriage equality, or even gay himself. His use of “gay” at the age of 5 or 6 was probably cultural, something he picked up on in school or maybe from a homophobic parent. Pop culture — then and and today — has often associated “gay” with negativity.

As an awkward homeschool kid who had occasional interactions with kids from public schools (we were allowed to play with them after school in our neighborhood), I always encountered one of two reactions from my friends: either (1) homeschooling was awesome to them because they thought it meant we just got to stay home and play video games all day, or (2) homeschooling was gay. I don’t really remember why they would think homeschooling was anything less than awesome (usually I would pretend that, yeah, we did get to play video games all day, just so they would think I was cool). But it’s possible they saw I was a total dork and deduced that, if total dorks are usually called “gay” and I was a total dork who was homeschooled, then homeschooling must be gay, too. That’s kid logic for you. (Ironically, many adults today still use kid logic.)

The numerous times I heard “homeschooling is gay” stick so lucidly to my mind because it was the first time I ever heard about “gayness.” It wasn’t until years later, when I learned from the conservative Christian homeschooling curriculum and worldview programs that homosexuality was evil and political nefarious, that I consciously thought about LGBT things. But from that one moment through probably half way through my undergrad program, both mainstream and homeschool cultures reinforced this idea that “gay” was synonymous with bad.

This idea, this deeply rooted hatred and desire to discriminate, is by no means unique to the conservative Christian homeschool movement. Yes, you have followers of Rushdoony who actively call for LGBT individuals to be stoned. Yes, you have people like Michael Farris who actively campaign against Prop 8 and the simple right of people of any gender to have a foundational relationship based on legal equality. But at the same time, it seems like almost every other day that I read some heartbreaking story of a gay kid in public school who was bullied to the point of suicide. Every time I turn on the radio I hear a hip hop star throwing gay slurs left and right.

The fact is, LGBT individuals face almost insurmountable discrimination and dehumanization on a daily basis. They experience this in their home life, in home schools, in private schools, in public schools, at work, and when they try to do something as simple as hold hands in public at a restaurant.

In creating this week’s focus on LGBT homeschool awareness, it needs to be clear that the pain and hurt that LGBT individuals experience happens universally. It is not unique to homeschooling. Indeed, with the significant amounts of bullying that these friends and peers of ours can experience in public schools, homeschooling can actually be a safe haven. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage minced no words that homeschooling as an educational option could save lives. When a gay 15-year-old boy from La Grande, Oregon hung himself earlier this year on account of being bullied, Savage noted that the boy, Jadin, had begged his parents to home school him to get him away from the cruelty. Savage said,

My heart breaks for Jadin’s parents and I don’t doubt that they’re filled with regret and I don’t want to make their pain worse. But I’m going to repost my advice for parents of bullied gay teenagers because there are other Jadins out there who haven’t harmed themselves but who may be at risk of doing so:

If you know your gay kid is being bullied at his school err on the side of overreacting. Err on the side of doing something drastic. Err on the side of turning your own life upside down. Because you don’t want to find out the abuse was more than your kid could bear when it’s too fucking late to do anything about it.

Straight parents: If you know your gay kid is being brutalized in his school and you’ve complained and it’s gotten worse, get him the fuck out of there. Homeschool him. Homeschool him and sue the school. Move away. Move someplace more tolerant. Move someplace better. If you can’t move away—or if you can’t move right away—send your son or daughter to live with relatives in another city, a better city…. And straight parents? Once you realize your kid is gay—which parents of gay kids usually realize long before their gay kids realize it themselves—take a long, hard look at the community in which you live. Take a long, hard look at the church where you worship. Take a long, hard look at the schools your kid will be forced to attend.

Then decide if staying put is worth your child’s life.

My heart goes out for Jadin, and for every kid that felt or feels so scared of being him or herself that suicide seems the only option. My heart goes out for all the kids that are hiding who they are, because of this fear. Savage makes a really good point, people: when our communities cease to be unsafe, we need to get out. When public schools cease to be safe for bullied LGBT kids, homeschooling can be an ally to the LGBT movement.

That  being said, many of us in conservative Christian homeschooling subcultures know that not all homeschooling communities are safe for LGBT individuals. Growing up gay or trans or even asexual in a world where the loudest voices demonize gay marriage and advocate stoning can be gut-wrenching and brutal. We who have been through this world know the horror stories: the kids that were kicked out of their homes, that were rejected by nearly everyone who knew them, that were forbidden from ever contacting family and friends again.

This week, Homeschoolers Anonymous honors the voices of our LGBT friends and peers. We are giving a platform to the stories of those homeschoolers who weathered the storm: the ones that are still terrified of coming out, the ones that have come out and experienced rejection, the ones that have come out and found acceptance, and the ones that are still processing everything and putting their selves’ pieces back together.

This week is for everyone that has felt different. The L’s, B’s, G’s, T’s, A’s, Q’s — ah hell, this week is for the whole alphabet of humanity!

Homeschoolers are gay. And so many other things, too. And all of us at HA — regardless of our identities and orientations — stand together in solidarity in the affirmation of each other’s humanity, beauty, and worth.

*****

Update, 05/21/13:

The heart and soul of this week’s LGBT homeschool awareness series is to stand in solidarity with our friends and peers of all sexual identities and orientations. I came up with the title, “Homeschoolers Are Gay,” based on consultation with some personal friends who are LGBT homeschoolers. The goal was to use a title that was inclusive, catchy, and poked fun at pop culture’s perjorative use of “gay” and tendency to otherize. That being said, a concern was raised yesterday that this title can feel alienating to some members of the LGBT community. And if even one person feels alienated, that is one person too many. The whole purpose of this week is to include everyone.

So, after further consultation with several of this week’s writers, I am choosing to rephrase this week’s series as “Homeschoolers Are Out.” I would also like to stress that, whenever I say “LGBT,” I am not limiting the week to those specific letters. All identities and orientations are welcome. I will be changing the main graphic for the series to reflect this rephrasing.

My sincerest apologies to anyone that felt excluded.

On another note: thanks, everyone, for the amazing support yesterday as this series begins. The stories we will be hearing this week are near and dear to my heart, as they are the stories of people I care about and love.