Right now in D.C. advocates from around the country are discussing how to address a troubling epidemic of harassment, intimidation and even violence at the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit.
And that’s a good thing.
In the wake of several years of heartbreaking headlines, a multi-prong, concerted effort is needed to combat the new extremes to which it seems bullying is heading.
Joining staffers from the Department of Education and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Associate Attorney General Tony West spoke about the importance of tackling the issue:
When nearly one in three middle and high school students report being bullied, and over half say they’ve witnessed bullying at school, we know that creating that sense of safety for our children won’t happen automatically.It happens only to the extent individuals, both old and young, make conscious choices—often through acts of personal courage and outreach—to create atmospheres of tolerance, climates of trust, environments both virtual and real where young people need not as the song says, “hide themselves in regret, but love themselves and be set,” and accept that invitation to be who they truly are.
That’s nice you found a Lady Gaga lyric to slip into your speech, Mr. West, but what about the gay little monsters who are facing the worst of the bullying epidemic? Certainly any efforts at creating safe environments for kids should be all-encompassing but it’d be a disservice if the summit doesn’t acknowledge LGBT youth are especially vulnerable and may need unique solutions.
We hope the summit is looking for those unique solutions. We pray those queer kids aren’t shoved to the back of the room for the sake of political correctness or an uncomfortability with acknowledging teen sexuality. Unlike other kids, gay youth who are bullied often can’t go to a teacher or parent because it would mean outing themselves—or possibly being told they’re at fault.
And those lucky enough to have supportive family—like Zach King, whose brutal beating was filmed and posted online—are faced with administrators who just want to put their head in the sand rather than face backlash from anti-gay activists.
We care about this work we because we know that a majority of our children—over 60%, regardless of race—are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse in their childhood, from brief encounters as witnesses to being direct victims themselves.
We know it’s not P.C. to say this, but 60% of kids are not told to kill themselves already by classmates. They don’t see their families attacked by the community when they try to help. They’re not bullied by teachers or told their tormentors are allowed to harass them on religious grounds.
And 60% of school kids are not getting their heads blown off with shotguns.
We won’t make a major dent in the bullying epidemic until we acknowledge it disproportionately affects LGBT youths and create solutions tailored to them.
AG West made a point of referencing the Department of Justice’s work in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, lamenting how some students were “skipping school, dropping out, even contemplating suicide because of severe harassment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”
No, Mr. West, they were actually killing themselves, not just contemplating it. And their deaths happened, in part, because of the district’s “neutrality” policy inhibiting discussion of their sexual orientation.
Not all kids who are bullied are gay, but there’s no denying gay kids are exponentially more likely to be bullied—especially in a society refuses to embrace them.
So what’s the solution? Well, in Canada, the government has mandated permission for students to create gay-straight alliances, overruling small minded principals and administrators. That probably wouldn’t fly in the Bible Belt, but all the anti-bullying programs in the world won’t help if students—both victims and perpetrators—don’t get the message that the school and the community stand behind their gay kids.
Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star