Amelia over at Huffington Post Gay Voices posted a blog about moms who are standing up for their LGBT/Gender Non-conforming kids.
I recommend it. She has brought together some of the moms, like me, who can’t keep quiet about how great our kids are. We are observing that a new day is here and our kids are a part of it–these kids have the words and confidence to express how they feel and who they are.
They, and all the other amazing little pioneers, deserve to be embraced and supported. And the parents of these kids need to know that they are not alone as they try and navigate this uncharted territory.
These women are really wonderful: smart, funny, and tough. My kind of ladies!
I recently heard Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns reflect on his October 12, 2010 statement about bullying and being gay during a City Council meeting. Wow. It was a considerably more intense experience than I had anticipated.
Apparently I cannot watch the video of his speech without crying, still. It is well worth watching (again): Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better” www.joelburns.com
At the event I attended, he described what brought him to that moment of bold action–one that would turn his world upside down. Week after week he read and watched news stories about young men killing themselves after being bullied and harassed for being different, or perceived as such.
Finally, after a report of a young man who took his own life after witnessing homoprejudice at his local city council meeting, Joel was moved to speak out. Talk about the universe knocking on the door and saying, “hey, you need to do something about this! You, City Councilman. Yeah, you!”
His experience describes the sort of moment that (hopefully) all people encounter in their lives–a moment of choice. Be true to your values, stand up, and speak up, or stay silent, be safe, and let injustice continue unchallenged. I gather that Joel had no idea what the ramifications of his action would be, but it was huge.
Today, I remember how important it is to not let injustice proceed unchallenged. There are so many moments great and small when we choose to make a stand or stand aside. We needn’t put ourselves in danger or sacrifice everything to a cause, but we can act with integrity, and on occasion take a bold action that may have incredibly widespread consequences.
* I hope I’ve accurately represented his story. My apologies for any incorrect interpretation. Watch the video and hear his own words.
Because my baby deserves it too.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has just released a report based on their research about LGBT prejudice and bullying in elementary schools: Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States. It is a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and 1,000 students from 3rd-6th grade during 2010.
In the Preface GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard outlines that:
This report from GLSEN illustrates the extent to which children’s elementary school experiences still draw artificial boundaries on their lives based on critical personal characteristics. Name‐calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Elementary school students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like “retard” and “that’s so gay,” and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a “serious problem” among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school. Our research also shows the connection between elementary‐school experiences of bullying and a lower quality of life.
The most comment epithets were those oriented toward intellectual or neurological difference, i.e. “retard” and “spaz,” but almost half the teachers and students surveyed said they hear “gay” used in any number of negative ways as well. The survey finds that children who are gender non-conforming endure the most bullying and name-calling. (I read this and feel as though nothing has changed since I was in elementary school. The children haven’t even updated the vocabulary of hate from the 1970s.)
GLSEN concludes that:
Elementary teachers often intervene in incidents of bullying and harassment, and most report being comfortable doing so. Yet, most are not comfortable responding to questions about LGBT people and few elementary students are taught about LGBT families. This tendency is not surprising given that most teachers report receiving professional development on addressing bullying, but not about subjects like gender issues or LGBT families. It is clear that an approach that fosters respect and values diversity even before bullying occurs, in addition to addressing bullying as it happens, would be welcomed by elementary school teachers who are eager to learn more about creating safe and supportive environments. Ensuring that all students and families are respected and valued in elementary school would not only provide a more positive learning environment for younger students, but would also lay the groundwork for safe and affirming middle and high schools.
Definitely the elementary schools are where we need to begin education that will change the culture of middle and high schools. I often wonder how much impact my daughter’s presence in her school will have on her classmates as they move into middle school. For the kids who are part of her school community having a queer-identified classmate will not be surprising as they move on toward high school.
About four months ago I wrote a post LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy in which I analyzed the policies of my local school district. Our district’s Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct identify “prohibited discrimination. For example:
No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability.
These guiding documents fail to go beyond those categories however. In my October 12, 2011 post I conclude:
According to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district, sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered [as categories of "prohibited discrimination"].
Playgrounds and Prejudice finds that most schools fail to have comprehensive policies that protect children from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and non-normative gender-identity. The new GLSEN survey shows that less than a quarter of the teachers said that their schools had a policy protecting gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender. GLSEN suggests, and I heartily concur, that a comprehensive policy to protect children with non-conforming gender expression or who identify as LGBT will lead to teachers being more proactive in the protection of their students. The GLSEN report concludes:
Although most teachers report that their school has an anti‐bullying/harassment policy, less than a quarter (23%) say that their school has a comprehensive policy that specifically includes protections for bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity).
Anti‐bullying/harassment policies may facilitate teachers taking action in their classrooms. Teachers in schools with these policies, particularly with comprehensive policies, are more likely to address incidents of bias and to take proactive steps to ensure that gender non‐ conforming students and students with LGBT families are safe and supported in school. (page 115)
What should we take away from this?
School districts must institute policies that are comprehensive in their protection of children based on gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender.
School districts and principals need to articulate to their teachers and school employees that these policies must be enforced and that school employees who identify incidences of harassment covered by these policies will be supported by school and district leadership.
School districts, principals, and teachers must commit to bringing these issues of justice into the school and classrooms. We need to teach justice and respect.
How do we do this?
We go to our the teachers, principals, and school board members and express our concerns. We ask for comprehensive policies to be incorporated into school codes of conduct and student handbooks.
We use the tools and programs already created for use in elementary schools. These are free programs that come with everything needed to institute a school wide, age-appropriated set of lessons that can form the platform to bring these issues into the schools, facilitate discussion, and cultivate a culture of respect among the students.
As GLSEN has just released their survey Playgrounds and Prejudice they have also released a toolkit to help educators incorporate lessons of respect and understanding into their classrooms. Ready, Set, Respect! answers the needs of elementary schools as outlined by the survey. GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard states: “Ready, Set, Respect! will equip teachers with tools and resources that not only improve school climate, but also instill a shared sense of responsibility among students that name-calling, bullying and harassment have no place in a school or community.”
Welcoming Schools is an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments. Welcoming Schools provides administrators, educators and parents/guardians with the resources necessary to create learning environments in which all learners are welcomed and respected.
The Welcoming Schools Guide offers tools, lessons and resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling.
The Safe Space Kit is a collection of resources for educators to create a positive learning environment for LGBT students. It contains a 42-page guide that provides concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students, including how to educate about anti-LGBT bias. It also comes with Safe Space stickers and posters to help students identify supportive educators.
I suggest purchasing a copy of Queer Kids: The Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth for the school counseling center of your local schools. It is a book written for school counselors, parents, and youth.
Lastly, many high school drama programs have already put on productions of The Laramie Project, a play written about the death of Matthew Shepard on October 12, 1998. These productions are a great way for students to create public forum that encourage discussions about LGBT issues, including discrimination and hate crime. This year was the 13th anniversary of his death and we mark it as an important reminder of the need for everyone, gay and straight, to make the safety all queer and gender non-conforming people a personal commitment–Be An Ally.
This report was released today:
“All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families”
“All Children Matter” was released by the Center for American Progress, the Family Equality Council, and the Movement Advancement Project, in partnership with COLAGE, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the National Association of Social Workers (with a foreword by the Child Welfare League of America).
Do check out the All Children Matter website, download the report, and share it with others.
Interestingly, in terms of the most LGBT headed households per capita (where more than 1 in 4 same-sex couples are raising kids): Mississippi tops the list, and Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma hold the 4th-8th spots.
Seven of the 12 states with the greatest number of LGBT headed households are in the South.
While the information in this report doesn’t surprise me – reading it gave me chills. Such frightening realities presented in black and white. This is a very important read.
The bullies themselves are not the core of the problem. It is families and society that teaches hate, intolerance and hurting others (sometimes just so they won’t hurt you) is the larger problem.
When a child decides to say something mean, they’re not necessarily (or often, for that matter) selecting a castigating remark based on what they think is the best “fit” for that target; they go straight for the thing they think is most hurtful. Often, that is a gay slur. They didn’t invent epithets, we adults taught it to them. We also showed them how to use these words with the sharpest points and manner of presentation possible. When we focus on bullies, we seem to forget that we ourselves are implicated in their behavior.
Education needs to happen at home, in our culture at large, and in schools – but it isn’t a message of “don’t bully” that the kids need it is a message about being strong and confident without kicking everyone else down so you can step on top of them.
The Food Chain
Yesterday my daughter and I were talking about bullying and the fact that it comes from families of origin, but the hate and fear is magnified by each kid’s own insecurities.
“So, the bully is so afraid of being at the bottom of the food chain that he pushes his way to the top so he can eat everyone else before they eat him?” That sums up part of the issue.
When I went to my daughter’s school to speak with her principal, I didn’t want to hear about the zero tolerance policy for bullying. By the time we are addressing incidents of harassment it is already too late. I wanted us to work together to teach the kids about diversity, acceptance, and the real ramifications of hate speech.
If a kid legitimately doesn’t know that “fag” isn’t a synonym for “stupid” he doesn’t understand that he is participating in LGBT bullying. Calling someone “stupid” isn’t okay either, but kids learn these terms from somewhere and they don’t always understand them. (I cringe when I recall my ignorant use of certain words – and I am appreciative that the adults who set me right did not humiliate me when they did)
The Big Picture
Safe and nurturing environments for our kids do not arise from simple assemblies about not bullying, but from inclusive education about the contributions of LGBT people throughout history, that gay families and straight families are more alike than dissimilar, that gender is not binary, and so on.
Let me leave you with the author’s last statement, but seriously go read the entire post:
We also affect how we think about bullies by focusing only on two extreme responses: the kids who commit suicide, and the kids who then hurt or kill other kids, as in the Columbine school massacre. But there are a whole host of other responses that get no media attention, and thus only a thin slice of the conversation. These are the kids who walk around with self-hatred, who insist they’re not gay for years longer than they may have otherwise, who become bitter or dysfunctional, who join ex-gay or gay reformer organizations, and so on, and that is another big price to pay for avoiding a subject or looking at only a few aspects of it.
We need to be more honest about LGBT/youth/LGBT youth suicide, because we care about human life and living it with happiness. This means we need to get honest with ourselves about how well we support our youngest generations’ emotional needs, and what we’re willing to do to make material improvements in their lives.
I am trying to nurture a strong, proud lesbian before the haters get to her. She already sees her identity as not hers alone, but part of a formidable community around the world and throughout time.
When I listen to her recount what happens in school I hear her interpreting the slurs of other children as attacks on all women or all queers – not just her. She seems to regard the world as having teams, some that support all that is best about LGBT-ness, and another made up of a disorganized set of people who are “narrow-minded and ignorant.” The ignorant, she believes might be educated, and the truly narrow-minded must not run amok without some push-back, but they are beyond wasting time on, especially when she could be swinging on the swings with her friends.
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