Filed under: Bullying
By Jacob Combs
Last friday, following a screening of Lee Hirsch’s documentary Bully at the White House on GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence, President Obama announced his official endorsement for two bills, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which have been proposed in Congress to battle bullying and discrimination in American schools. The White House had previously gone at the record to say that it “supported the goals” of SNDA, but fell short of full endorsement, as the ACLU’s Ian Thompson pointed out in an late March op-ed piece in The Advocate.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act, which is set up similarly to Title IX, the landmark law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected under federal education nondiscrimination law. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would add bullying and harrassment-awareness programs, including ones specifically focused on orientation and gender identity, to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
The Obama administration’s support of SNDA and SSIA have been some time in coming: the two bills were introduced in March 2011 during the White House conference on bullying, but were looked over by a Senate committee when the time came to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011 in October. Having the White House behind the bills will no doubt give them more momentum in the legislature, and will hopefully create an environment in which they might actually pass.
When the Obama administration punted earlier this month on an executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the LGBT community was rightfully upset. That was the wrong choice, and it is right of our community to continue pushing the administration on that issue, and the many other issues that are important to us. Still, Obama’s endorsement of the SSIA and SNDA underscores how important it is to recognize that while President Obama may not be the ally that we want him to be, he is nonetheless a powerful ally.
In a moving and unusual expression of support, the Sioux City Journal of Sioux City, Iowa yesterday devoted its entire front page to an anti-bullying editorial after Kenneth Weishuhn, a gay Iowa high schooler who came out to his peers at school and was rejected by them, took his own life. ”In Kenneth’s case, the warnings were everywhere,” the paper wrote in its editorial. “We saw it happen in other communities, now it has hit home. Undoubtedly, it wasn’t the first life lost to bullying here, but we can strive to make it the last.”
It’s time for Congress to take action on this issue, to fight back against what is increasingly beginning to look like an epidemic. With any luck, President Obama’s endorsement will provide the SSIA and the SNDA will more visibility on the national stage. We aren’t powerless against harassment and bullying in our schools. But it will take more advocacy to push past the intransigence of lawmakers who simply do not want to admit there is a problem.
By Jacob Combs
Today is GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence, when students across the country take a vow of silence to stand against the invisibility that young gays and lesbians can feel at school. GLSEN’s blog will have stories from supporters throughout the day. If you’ve ever been a part of a Day of Silence activism, you know how powerful the statement can be, and the insightful reflection it can engender in those around you.
On this important day, I wanted to share an incredible video from the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. Working through public education, youth organizing and policy advocacy, the Alliance advocates for a safe and healthy school environment for Illinois students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The fact that these students are committing themselves to helping their peers is truly inspiring–if only we could all have been this wise in high school.
Libertarian magazine editor claims in Wall Street Journal op ed that there’s no bullying crisis in schools
By Scottie Thomaston
The Wall Street Journal recently featured an essay written by Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason Online, a libertarian site. The title of the essay proclaims that we all need to “Stop Panicking About Bullies” because there really is not a huge national problem with bullying:
But is America really in the midst of a “bullying crisis,” as so many now claim? I don’t see it.
Gillespie says that parents are just being overprotective and hyperbolic. There is nothing to see here, he suggests. Even more strange, he claims that the numbers prove that bullying isn’t a real problem:
Even as the country’s overprotective parents whip themselves up into a moral panic about kid-on-kid cruelty, the numbers don’t point to any explosion of abuse.
So let’s look at the numbers.
In January, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a study on bullying in elementary schools. The study was a follow-up to the first national study to research bullying in America’s schools. As I wrote in January:
In 2005, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a study conducted by Harris Interactive – “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America – A National Report on School Bullying” – that looked at “students’ and teachers’ experiences with bullying and harassment.” They interviewed 3,450 students aged 13 to 18 and 1,011 secondary school teachers. It was the first national study that took on the topic of bullying in America’s schools.
Not surprisingly, 65% of students reported that they had been bullied within the year in which the study was conducted “because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability or religion.” The purpose of the study was to gain information in order to help raise awareness in schools across the country about the prevalence of bullying and the need for outreach, education and policies that would lead to a safer environment for students.
That was the 2005 study, on students who were 13-18 years old. The January study on students in elementary school suggests:
Three-fourths of students (75%) report that students at their school are called names, made fun of or bullied with at least some regularity. Most commonly this is because of students’ looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%).
And in particular the study took notice of the type of language used in elementary schools against students while they are being bullied:
The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly (i.e., sometimes, often or all the time) by both students and teachers, are the use of the word “gay” in a negative way, such as “that’s so gay,” (students: 45%, teachers: 49%) and comments like “spaz” or “retard” (51% of students, 45% of teachers). Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as “fag” or “lesbo” (students: 26%, teachers: 26%) and negative comments about race/ethnicity (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).
And this type of behavior might seem bad in elementary school, but it actually escalates when students enter middle school. This would provide an excellent opportunity to start addressing this bullying as early as possible so that middle school kids can make it through their days without the constant harassment:
These two studies together, the first one addressing middle school and high school students, and this one addressing elementary school students, show that bullying and antagonistic behavior toward people “based on appearance” may start early on in schools but the study adds more weight to the idea that bullying is more prevalent among middle school students, meaning that the older you get, the more bullying you could experience. If teachers started to address these problems and discuss the lives and struggles of people who are LGBT directly, perhaps the number of students in middle schools and high schools who are bullied and harassed could decrease with time.
This doesn’t sound like overzealous, overprotective parents to me. Just these studies alone point to an extreme bullying problem in our schools. And despite the WSJ’s claims that parents are panicking over bullying, and their assertions about “shrinking violet” city boys and girls, it seems the real hyperbolic and dramatic fear comes from the right-wing and it is a fear that people who bully or permit bullying might be subjected to “more lawsuits against schools and bullies, many of which will stretch the limits of empathy and patience.”