By Drew Mackie
In the wake of Tyler Clementi's death and four other suicides by bullied gay teens in September alone, celebrities have rallied to make people realize how deeply this kind of harassment can hurt its victims. Whether part of the "It Gets Better" movement or not, we've heard encouraging words from all the celebrities you'd expect -- gay ones (Neil Patrick Harris, Tim Gunn, supporters like Kathy Griffin) and even a few people we didn't expect (welcome to the party, Dane Cook and Nicki Minaj!). But we have to question one of the loudest voices in the anti-bullying movement: Perez Hilton.
First off, we will point out that Perez Hilton has fiercely advocated gay rights, so much so that he posts regularly that allegedly straight celebrities are, in fact, gay. Hilton has taken some flak. "It upsets me that people think what I'm doing is a bad thing," Perez said. "I don't think it's a bad thing. If you know something to be a fact, why not report it? Why is that still taboo?" This question has been answered by many gay pundits: Forcing celebs out of the closet denies these people the ability to make deeply personal decisions about their life. Even if Hilton reports the truth and even if does in the long term increase the visibility of gay issues, he's still exposing one of the most private experiences a person can have, in order to entertain his audience.
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Granted, these people are adult professionals with the financial means and PR expertise to handle Perez Hilton and a public coming-out process, but imagine these situations in a high school setting: A gossipy know-it-all goes around spreading rumors about others' private lives in order to get attention. That is a bully -- maybe not the punch-your-face kind, but most certainly the mean girl who presides over the cafeteria, enforcing her own social code on everyone else.
Verbal bullies cause just as much pain, don't forget. Demi Lovato, who has been an anti-bullying advocate since before the "It Gets Better" movement started, said as much recently in a post on the Teens Against Bullying website: "People say sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you, but that's not true. Words can hurt. They hurt me." And closeted or insecure gay teens can suffer just by virtue of having their perceived sexuality called by other students. Is this type of schoolyard assault all that different from, for example, Hilton labeling Queen Latifah a lesbian every time she does something noteworthy?
And then, of course, there are the defamatory doodles scrawled across the paparazzi shots appearing on Perez Hilton's site. These appear less often now, but most readers would think of it as Hilton's trademark -- and, really, it's about on the same level as vandalizing someone's high school locker. He's often hard on the up-and-coming starlet crowd. Lily Allen, who has had public spats with Hilton over the years, called the blogger a bully back in 2008. "I used to enjoy reading his site [but] it seems to me he has become what he hates so much: a bully. He bullies young, successful females."
So as much as promoting the "It Gets Better" movement helps gay teens, Hilton's cheers to end bullying sound hypocritical. The rash of gay teen suicides reminds us that this group of young people need help, but labeling some poor girl "slut" or "whore" is just as bad -- and in the sad cases of Phoebe Prince and Hope Witsell, drove them to suicide. If Perez Hilton really wants to end all bullying, he should use his fame to lead by example, stop name-calling, and never give another reader the idea that it's OK to use words to hurt other people.