As a journalist who started out writing for the LGBT media and a member of the LGBT community myself, I am very concerned about the potentially homophobic messages being reinforced by the show Beyond Scared Straight on A&E.
A revival of Scared Straight with the purpose of rehabilitating troubled teens on their way to prison by essentially subjecting them to a hazing ritual by real prisoners, I realize the show is meant to raise eyebrows. But I have concerns that the program is actually perpetuating and even condoning violence against gay teens. Behaviors that are accepted and encouraged during the program include threatening to dress the kids up in women's clothing, calling them faggots and threatening rape. I understand the intent of these comments is to scare the kids straight, but...is that also meant literally? It would seem so.
There are gay kids among those teens in the program, rest assured. And there are gay kids watching the show. Those comments are perpetuating the violence and verbal abuse that goes on in schoolyards everyday and that is resulting in suicides all over the country. This is not the time for a show that uses bullying as a behavior modification tactic.
I think someone from the show needs to address this aspect of the program. I understand that prison is what it is - we're not going to end homophobic, violent behavior in prisons while it thrives out here. But doesn't the show need to at least address the fact that this is wrong, rather than actively encouraging it? Doesn't a distinction need to be made somehow to explain that the rape dynamics and homophobic comments are about power rather than sexuality? And why is the prison guards' implicit role in cultivating these behaviors glossed over?
At the end of the day, these kids are not prisoners - they are 12(!) to 17 year olds who are going back out onto the street and into the schoolyards. One teen was getting into fights because he said he was being called gay and accused of looking gay. The show's solution was to have the prisoners bully him and call him sissy and faggot in order to scare him into staying out of jail. I don't see how this is helping that kid, who could very well be gay, and is now coping with far more self-hatred than before, thanks to A&E. He was not doing well in the follow-up package, and i'm not surprised.
Being taunted and bullied makes kids angry or desperate - it doesn't make them straight in any sense of the word.