Painting with a broad brush

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer February 08, 2013 02:12 pm

La Grande has been much in the news lately with unfortunate and tragic suicide of gay teen Jadin Bell, a sophomore at La Grande High School and a member of the cheerleading squad.

This young man, who enjoyed photography, fashion, music and reading, didn’t deserve to be bullied.

Neither does any of us.

Bullying takes many forms beyond gay bashing. Teens bullying other teens on Facebook. Parents bullying teachers and school administrators. Skinny people bullying overweight people. Drivers bullying gas station attendants. Shoppers bullying clerks. Democrats bullying Republicans, and Republicans bullying Democrats. Environmentalists bullying ranchers, and ranchers bullying environmentalists.

Editorial writers frequently climb onto the bully pulpit, a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who called the White House his bully pulpit. Points, however, are more effective when made with reasoning rather than a hammer.

Back in the 1980s, North Idaho was painted as a racist region because a small band of white supremacists settled there. Today, La Grande is being painted with a broad brush as being a homophobic community where bullying of gays is tolerated, even encouraged.

The truth is less black and white. In any community, there are gay bashers, white supremacists, racists, bigots, liberals, conservatives and also a lot of people trying to make the community a better place to live.

It doesn’t mean we have to walk the tightrope of political correctness. It does mean we need to respect others’ views and approach debate in a civil manner.

We will never be totally free of bullying. We all need to develop resilience, and when we encounter bullying in any of its many forms, we need to take a stand.

If Bell leaves a legacy, maybe it’s that we as a community take a stand against violence in all its forms.