I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the tragedies of the six young men who have committed suicide in the past few weeks after being bullied and harassed for being gay, or for being perceived as gay. And also for the young trans man who was denied the role of Homecoming King because he was a “woman” on official school records. And also the students last spring who were not allowed to go to their school formals with their partners of choice because they were same-sex couples. It saddens, angers and frustrates me that this is still going on in 2010.
While I believe that lots of the blame should be placed on the student tormentors, a significant portion also lies with the institutions where these young people spend the majority of their days – the schools.
Educators: It is your job to see that every student has safe access to education. That’s right, your job. You signed up for it when you accepted the contract for the school year. As teachers, administrators, academic support staff, bus drivers and adults attached to a school/district, you assume in loco parentis, “in the place of a parent,” as part of your duties both in and out of the classroom. As such, it’s your job to protect kids from being bullied and harassed and to see that they are provided with the best possible environment to learn, grow and become productive members of society.
If you can’t do that, get a new job. If you believe that some students deserve this because they’re too effeminate or too butch, or too black or Latino or Asian, or too sexual or whatever - get a new job.
If you feel like you can do your job, then listen when students say they’re being harassed. Do something. Punish the harasser Take it to your supervisor. Why? Because it’s your job.
If possible, work with the victims’ parents and relatives, but if not, then work with other adults in the kids’ lives who will help. These kids are valuable and need to know it.
If you are getting resistance from the institution, fight back. Publicly if you can, but privately too. Call school board members and seek advice. Gather allies among your fellow educators and approach the problem as a group.
Students: If you’re being bullied and harassed for being queer, or for any reason, please tell an adult. A parent if possible, but if not then an adult friend you can trust. If there’s no one individual in your community, try contacting Trevor Helpline for Gay and Lesbian Youth. The helpline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR or 1-866-488-7386 is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You can also access the organization online at http://www.thetrevorproject.org. If you go to the website, you can search for local resources at http://www.thetrevorproject.org/youth/local-resources
If your school is doing nothing, contact the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has a project dedicated to LGBTQ students at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/youth-schools
Please, please don’t give up hope. The queer community is large and diverse and there are many, many of us who will take the time to see that you will survive, grow, and thrive.