Thursday, November 22, 2012

And Now It's Happening In Italy...

In my never-ending comparison of the two cultures between which I was raised, one thing that I used to like about the Italian culture was the absence of bullying, at least at the school level. That is not to say that there weren't kids that were mean, or cruel, or loud in their ignorance, but the systematic bullying of "weaker" or "unpopular" kids by one or more "stronger" or "popular" kids was almost unheard of. I remember friends of mine watching typical American teen comedies, with the nerdy kids regularly getting pushed around or their heads flushed in toilets, with the cliques of the "popular kids" at the top and a whole underclass of kids below them wanting to be them, and laugh at the ridiculous parody of American life that couldn't possibly be true. I mean, there might be some girls that are prettier, and therefore girls that are better at snagging a boyfriend, but there's no real high school social ladder that could come tumbling down if you stop dressing a certain way or put on a few pounds, is there? I mean, sure there are some criminal kids, dangerous fascist kids that might do terrible things to someone, but it's not something that happens in every school, every day, under teachers' noses, right? Come on, it's a total exaggeration! This naivete was something that I liked, because it was an indication of a high school mentality which involved small groups of friends largely leaving others alone and going about their own business. While there are other aspects of high school life which are a real problem in Italy, such as the regular occupations of schools with all the reasons and problems that come with them, this at least was an aspect that I admired.

Here's the thing though. While I know that in countries where bullying is rife you will find it pretty much everywhere, things always get worse when the student body starts becoming more filled with "others". It used to be that there were very few racial minorities (and the ones that were present were thus well integrated) in public schools(*), almost no one that came out in adolescence, and this absence of easy targets to pick on no doubt contributed to the rarity of bullying. However this country is evolving, more and more people are understanding they are gay at younger ages, and so it begins. I am ashamed to say that bullying has reached our schools, and now begin the teen suicides, people who break under the persistent, constant pressure of hate.

A fifteen year-old boy, known only by the pseudonym Davide (Italy has strict laws regarding the publishing of underage people's names) hung himself in his home while his parents were away, after a year of cyberbullying in the form of a facebook page designed solely to humiliate him, homophobic comments at school, and apparently the straw that broke the camel's back with a teacher berating him for coming to school wearing nail polish. I'm sure it did not help matters that (allegedly, according to his friends) his parent's were not supportive of him, and "did not understand him". Those who knew him blame themselves for not seeing the signs sooner and doing something to help, but this is pure survivor's guilt and is not their fault. 

The only silver lining that I can find is that there is an investigation into the creators of the facebook page, the instigators behind the systematic abuse, who will hopefully be charged with Istigazione al suicidio a suicidio avvenuto - inciting suicide with the result of an actual suicide, a penalty that can bring five to twelve years in prison. What will actually happen, if it all will be abandoned somewhere down the road remains to be seen, but at least for now something is being done. Commenters on the article call for the Italian version of the "It Gets Better" campaign, and I agree with them.

If any of you are or live in Italy, and are or know a member of the LGBT community that needs help coping with abuse, know the resources that are available to you. Call 800-713-713 for support and information.

(*) I did not go to a public school, but rather an International school, which resulted in there being no such thing as a racial minority - with 56 countries represented in a high school of 180, we had more of a "two of everything" thing going on. We also had a few kids who were out, and a few more we were sure were not far behind. In my four years of high school, to the best of my knowledge there was never a single instance of bullying. People may fight, and bitch about each other behind their backs in true teenage fashion, but there was no uneven power, no systematic taunting that ever happened there. One kid with whom I was no longer friends did try to get back at me by spreading the rumor that I was a lesbian, but it died on his lips: few believed him, and those that did could not care less, not a single one of them came up to me to even ask me if it was true, let alone make fun of me. I only found out because I overheard him, and when I brought it up to a couple of people they simply said "oh yea, I heard that, honestly I just thought he was being kind of pathetic, nor did I really think about it enough to wonder whether or not it was true". I tell this story because I think that having an open, multicultural and international upbringing is the single most important thing that made me who I am, and my education is a model that I believe is the best solution for producing openminded and productive people. This has been tried and tested, and always to be kept in mind when you hear people crying "freedom of religion" and "protection of values" when trying to advocate for unrestrained bullying and all-one-race-and-one-background schools.

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