How to Respond to Bullying in the Schools
One of the biggest issues facing the schools, from elementary through high school, is bullying. Unfortunately, much of this bullying is focused on issues of sexual and gender identity. The Supreme Court has ruled that schools are obligated to protect students from sexual harassment, and sexual bullying constitutes sexual harassment; however, many communities are not including sexual orientation or gender identity in their anti-bullying policies or legislation.
Several children have committed suicide due to bullying of this sort and almost 25% of students who have been taunted, teased or bullied because of being perceived as gay or lesbian have attempted suicide. Even more disturbingly, this type of bullying is most severe during the later elementary and middle school years. While the schools must address these issues and are working diligently to do so, the gay, lesbian and transgender community should do so as well. What can we do to help these kids and improve acceptance in the schools?
The gay community can assist with this critical issue in several ways. First, gay and lesbian centers across the country should be actively providing support to gay youth. Offer youth groups and make sure they are as accessible as possible to young people. Work with school Gay-Straight Alliance groups whenever possible to share knowledge and resources. A good social support system can reduce the risk of suicide among GLBTQ teens and reduce the impact of bullying.
Consider offering your support services to local school boards to share information about the struggles and challenges of gay and lesbian youth. You may even want to consider visiting the schools and providing information via an assembly or classroom presentations. Gay, lesbian and transgender youth are not the only ones victimized by this sort of daily torment. In fact, four heterosexual students report name calling and accusations of a sexual nature for every gay or lesbian student. Contact your school boards and legislators about the importance of anti bullying legislation that specifies sexual and gender identity protection.
Responding to harassment in the schools is more challenging if you are the one being bullied. Ignoring the bully, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and responding with humor can all be helpful strategies if you don’t feel like you are at physical or emotional risk. Know your school’s discipline policies and work within those policies and with the assistance of your parents, teachers and administrators to stop the bullying.
The latest gay bullying comes from Queens, New York where Jack Price, 49, had left a deli after buying cigarettes in College Point, when he received a number of antigay comments and was attacked. No matter whether you are young or old you have to be on the lookout for anti-gay remarks and slurs and be able to get away from attackers. We can only hope that Obama will keep his words spoken at the HRC Equality Dinner and sign into the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill that will be on his desk soon. See safeschoolscoalition.org for more information on anti-gay bullying.