The Power Within to Overcome Bullying

In the movement to stop gay bullying and suicide, there have been video campaigns, efforts to change school policies, and many powerful stories—both courageous and tragic—that have brought attention to the treatment of gay students.

Doing their part are Charles “Zane” Christensen and Mark Brill, a writer/artist team from Northwest Comics, who created The Power Within.

The comic focuses on Shannon, a shy, artsy kid who dresses and acts differently from his peers and gets teased and threatened for it.   Making things worse, his parents and teachers blame him for the bullying.   They say if he didn’t behave so strange, he wouldn’t bring it on himself.   Shannon is scared, alone and at a dangerous breaking point.

But in his imagination, he has a superhero alter ego who can stand up to the bullies and give back what they’re giving.   It’s a fantasy that gets Shannon through the day, but as his torment at school escalates, he faces the question:   will it be enough to survive?

According to Christensen, the goal of the comic is to send a positive message to bullied teens.   While bullying and suicide are complex issues, Christensen believes The Power Within can make a difference to kids who feel like outcasts and may be on the verge of doing something desperate.

The series is dedicated to Rutgers University Freshman Tyler Clementi who took his life after classmates distributed a secret video of him making out with another boy.   Way too many gay teenagers face such situations of humiliation and harassment, and Christensen says that—while support from caring adults helps—often the solution is kids finding the personal strength to be who they are.

It’s a good approach that is backed by social science research.   Gay men who are self-accepting are less likely to attempt suicide, or to encounter problems such as unsafe sex or drugs. Self-acceptance ultimately comes from “within,” but environmental influences can have an impact, including positive examples of LGBTs in the media.

Christensen wants to get The Power Within into school classrooms and libraries so that as many young people as possible can access it.   He’s acquiring donations—big and small—to cover the cost of printing so kids can get them for free.

He’s set the goal of raising $3,000 by May 20th, and you can help by visiting his page at Kickstarter.

On another front, activists are battling regressive school policies that make it even harder to address anti-gay bullying.

The Tennessee state legislature is pushing through a bill that requires public schools to refrain from discussing homosexuality. Dubbed the “Speak No Gay” Law, the legislation—championed by state senator Tracey Campfield (R)—is insidiously positioned as a “neutral” policy on homosexuality, allowing parents to decide when (or if) they want their child to learn about diversity.   But if the school’s policy is gays do not exist, how do they deal with gay kids who are getting bashed?

So much could be said about the absurdity and wrong-mindedness of the law.  But instead, I’ll share the inspired campaign to fight it.

Started as a media project to repeal California’s anti-gay Prop 8, FCKH8.com created a very clever and entertaining response to Tennessee legislators.   Every time you tweet or Facebook the video, 25 cents will be donated to the Tennessee Equality Project which promotes LGBT rights.

Here’s the video.

Fuck  fuck  fuck.   Gay  gay  gay.   See:   it’s fun!

 

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To Fight Injustice and Serve All Mankind: Prism Comics

Pride Comics award-winning Pride High series

I haven’t been so excited to share a discovery since I found out about pioneering Hungarian gay activist Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

Founded in 2003, Prism Comics is a not-for-profit organization that supports LGBT comics, creators and readers, through education, promotion and resources for publication.   They operate a full-featured website with profiles of 390 comics creators, Webcomics–a collection of featured series, forums, and a shop where you can purchase hundreds of titles.

LGBT-themed comics have been around for quite awhile, at least on the spicy fringe, vis-a-vis Tijuana Bibles and Tom of Finland.   But the mainstream industry has a long history of censoring queer content, and adding to a homophobic climate via negative portrayals, or killing queer characters off in violent, degrading ways.

According to Prism Co-President David Stanley, attitudes towards LGBTs have been slow to change, and controversy still comes up when queer characters and storylines are introduced.

For example–in 2009–Marvel Comics’ X-Factor series revealed a romance between teammates Shatterstar and Rictor.   Former Marvel writer Rob Liefeld, who created the Shatterstar character 18 years ago, vociferously opposed the storyline, saying:   “Shatterstar is not gay.  I can’t wait to someday undo this,” and insisting the move was “contrived” and “bad for fans.”

Stanley and others—including current X-Factor writer Peter David—interpret Liefeld’s response as homophobic, and liken it to a parent’s refusal to accept the inevitable development of his child’s autonomy, in this case coming out as bisexual or gay.   Shatterstar started out as sexually ambiguous, and the awakening of his feelings for Rictor was a reasonable progression—and one that many LGBT fans can relate to—since sexual confusion and repression frequently precede acknowledging a queer identity.

Moreover, defenders of Shatterstar’s coming out ask:   isn’t there a double standard here?  Comics heroes are frequently handed down from writer to writer—including many of Liefeld’s other creations—and there isn’t an outcry when a hero discovers his non-gay leaning.   Stanley feels Liefeld’s reaction to Shatterstar’s evolution amounts to a belief that warrior-type heroes can’t be gay.

Ironically, Shatterstar is modeled after ancient Spartan soldiers, of whom there is widespread acknowledgement of homosexuality.

Shatterstar and Rictor kiss in X-Factor #45

While industry giants like Marvel and DC have very gradually become more inclusive of LGBT themes, it’s heartening to see the LGBT comics community thriving due—in large measure—to the growth and freedom of e-publications.   Prism Comics is a portal to an astoundingly diverse world of talented queer comics.   Their interests and styles run the gamut—political commentary, everyday sarcasm, superheroes, anime, erotica and many more.

Beyond its website, Prism participates in ComicCons with booths and panels.   Refreshingly humble about his organization’s influence within the industry, though passionate about it, Stanley says having a presence at these events fosters a more welcoming climate for LGBT writers and fans alike.

“We create a space for creators and fans to feel comfortable being themselves amongst their fellow comic book geeks.   I think it’s a bit comforting to know you can go to a convention and find one booth where there are openly gay people selling books with LGBT characters or subjects.”

Here’s some of the artwork/strips at Prism that caught my eye…

Bevis Musson’s Queen of Diamonds Promo

 

Bangkok-based Chaturon Konghin’s Boy Love cover

Anti-Bullying Comic by Charles Christensen and Mark Brill

Note:   The title of this article is not a statement of Prism Comics’ mission.   It’s from the Saturday morning cartoon The Superfriends, one of my childhood favorites.

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