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September 1, 2014

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What do we say when schoolyard tactics enter the adult world?

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We hate, we fear, we loathe, we call names, we bully, and then we say we are astounded by the tribal warfare in other countries.

A lesbian couple, together for 40 years, is on the news declaring their love for one another. They’re part of a larger group suing Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval over the constitutional right to get married. My girlfriend says to the TV, “It gets better.”

I sort of laugh at the satirical comment, not knowing how else to respond to the fact that an adult couple in America is arguing for its right to be wed in a country where complete strangers can get married for kicks on a drunken evening in Vegas.

The It Gets Better Project, designed to send love and support to bullied gay teens caught in the hellish bubble of junior high and high school, is obviously valuable to children feeling trapped. It does get better. We find allies and new friends and create new families.

But what do we say to adults? What phrase can we toss to those caught in the battles over race, religion, sexual identity, sexism, immigration or social services?

Schoolyard tactics have translated directly to the adult world.

Rush Limbaugh lambasted Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, calling her a slut on the radio over her support of birth control (conveniently forgetting that Viagra is covered by insurance). Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mom, has been criticized for never having held a job. She runs with the opportunity to push her husband’s presidential campaign and then the attacks morph, saying she’s not a real stay-at-home mom, what with all the likely maids, butlers and nannies on hand.

Ashley Judd responds to barbs over her puffy face with an op-ed in the Daily Beast, enlivening the discussion on whether unreal expectations of women are okay. Meanwhile, GOP party members are outraged that the mainstream media is stoking the “liberal agenda” by reporting news about the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, stalked and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, initially sent home without arrest or investigation.

I receive a snarky email from someone upset that a white person had been shot recently and wondering if Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will come to her town to protest, even though the assailants are being investigated. My response is just as volatile: How could a person who went to the same church as I hold so much hatred.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and colors. We bully without even knowing we’re bullies. The 2002 effort to drive Nevada voters to the polls so they could vote to change the constitution to define marriage as between a man and woman was an ugly campaign to ensure that gays never sully the sacred bond of marriage. There were billboards, news segments, phone campaigns and door-to-door efforts. Gays were assaulted daily by the hate.

I wonder if I could be overreacting. Then I remember visiting a family whose home was decked out for Hanukkah with the same zeal and lights as Christmas ornamentation. But only inside. Outside, the home was a dark anomaly among the blazing Christmas lights up and down the block. The mother said it’s too unsafe to advertise their faith. Overreacting? Hard to say.

Last week, Taylor Bowles registered as the first Capitol Hill lobbyist for the American Nazi Party. The fringe group might be feeling more comfortable in American society these days, considering Tea Party members freely drop the N-word at rallies and given the lax interest shown by local police in the Martin shooting.

Then there are free speech issues: Some argue that Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is being bullied by his employers, who suspended him after Guillen said he loves former Cuban President Fidel Castro. By that same argument, Limbaugh is being bullied by advertisers that abandoned his radio show.

Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck say some nasty things, but so does Bill Maher. We hate, we fear, we loathe, we call names, we bully, we become outraged, we jockey for position and righteousness, we do what we can to protect ourselves, and then we say we’re astounded by the tribal warfare in other countries.

On Sunday, LGBT activists disrupted a Tea Party protest in Boston where an anti-gay pastor was in attendance. Eventually someone reportedly shouted over the crowd, “We will not be silenced by f*ggots.” The story hasn’t been confirmed by other news outlets, but a comment at the end of the Huffington Post piece on the incident stuck out: “Stay Classy, GOTP.” Maybe “stay classy” should be the mantra we use for our adult selves.

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