First things first... in most (not all) cases, these teens were not bullied for being gay. Being gay, depending on your definition, has to do with how you identify yourself or what sex acts you perform and with whom. But these were kids. We don't know (in most cases) whether they had sex or not, with whom, or whether they identified as gay. Their nascent sexual identities were only forming. It's likely that they, themselves, weren't sure yet.
Yet we do know there was a general perception among their peers that these kids might be gay, based on their likes, mannerisms, self-labeling, etc.
It seems pretty clear that, in many cases, these kids were bullied, not for BEING gay, but for ACTING gay.
In other words, they were bullied for being effeminate.
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, but it's an important distinction to make, because it cuts closer to the real, and more problematic, root of the problem.
Teens with effeminate mannerisms are victimized for much the same reason that "nerds, geeks, dweebs," etc are victimized...perceived lack of a certain set of alpha-male qualities that seem to be so valued in our school and in our culture.
Children learn quickly what behaviors and traits are expected from them, and, for the most part, eagerly act to not only meet those expectations to the best of their ability, but to enforce those expectations on their fellow children.
Children know what a boy is supposed to wear, what a girl is supposed play with, what a good, real boy looks and acts like, and how a good , real girl behaves. And they know because we tell them.
Sure, we've made strides, especially in making it more acceptable for girls to play sports, be tough, be tomboys, etc. But have we even tried to make it more acceptable for boys to be sensitive, artistic, or pretty?
Even in this anti-bullying discussion, what's the first thing you hear? "Well, you have to stand up for yourself! It teaches you how to be a man. It builds character!"
I'm all for a fair fight, but it never is. This isn't the movies. The victim isn't merely fighting an individual bully; the victim is fighting an environment: an environment where his mannerisms, his way of being in the world, is deemed unacceptable--an environment of our creation.
OUR creation. We've chosen to make it it a man's world. Sure we've allowed women to join it (to an extent), as long as they can match men in what we value: the aggressive, the competitive, the athletic, the big, over all else. We select our celebrities, our CEO's, and our Presidents based on these factors. Kids are shrewd. They see this. They know what we value and what we ridicule.
Even in the gay community, we idolize big muscles and big dicks, hairy chests, aggression, and all traits traditionally deemed "masculine", and have, at times, heaped scorn on those who do not fit the masculine ideal or who embarrass us with "gender confusion."
There are all kinds of anthropological and sociological reasons for it, dating back to prehistory, but we're not living in caves anymore. In a digital world, where war is made remotely, maybe it's time to take a closer look at what we value, what we elevate, what we insist that our kids become, what we ask from each other.
If we really do live in a world where only physical toughness matters, then the bullies are right. Some people just need to get a thicker skin. Toughen up. Man up. Whatever up.
Maybe that was true at some point (though I have my doubts), but that's not the world we live in (for now).
I'm not saying we should all go beat up the athletes (Geaux Saints!!!!). But we need to "celebrate diversity" in more than just culture and skin tone.
There are so many traits that we as a society not only value, but NEED. Listening. Art. Intellect. Eye for detail. Diplomacy. Caring. Intellect. Musicianship--traits that make the best things in our world possible. And we're beating them out of our children, when they should be celebrated, everywhere and always, enthusiastically and in truth (not merely ironically) in anyone who evinces them, no matter their gender.