I recently received a letter from the Human Rights Campaign asking me to contribute. The first thing I will say is that I am not the HRC’s biggest fan. I believe that the HRC sees only the Democratic Party as America’s LGBT saving grace. Now I am a Democrat, there is no doubt about it. However, I don’t believe that the sun shines out of the ass of every Democrat. Promises were made to the LGBT community by the current administration that have not been kept. Instead of praising the Obama administration for requiring hospitals to allow visitation by LGBT partners and family members and praising them for saying that they want Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, we should be telling them to do more, do what they promised, and push even harder for equality. There should be national laws against discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace. We should have every legal right to fully recognized civil marriages (or unions). I personally think that marriage is a religious ceremony and that all people should be required to have a civil and/or a religious marriage for it to be recognized by the government. When the government gives out a marriage license at the local courthouse, they should not be able to discriminate against someone because of their sex. If two people love one another, they should be able to get married, whether it is two men, two women, or a man and a woman. The GLBT community should be more vocal about the shortfalls of the Obama administration and the slowness for “CHANGE” that has come. The HRC spends far too much time placating the Democrats and not enough time working on ending the problems of discrimination. When the HRC gets serious about LGBT rights and quits being merely a minority spokesperson in the Democratic Party, I will contribute again. Also, they need a stronger nationwide organization. Far too often, the HRC ignores the South. When they are in the South, it is largely an elitist organization. If you are going to fight for equality, fight for the equality of all, not just the elite in certain areas.
So that was my rant about the HRC. Now for what I began writing this post about in the first place. I want to gives some advice about school bullying:
This post comes from Dr. Marlene Synder, the Director of Development for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Dr. Synder is also a member of the Welcoming Schools National Advisory Council. She discusses the links between Welcoming Schools and Olweus, the world’s foremost bullying prevention program.
We all want our children to learn, thrive and become productive adults. Many students find it difficult to learn, thrive and dream of their futures because of school-based bullying (both traditional and cyber bullying) . We know that bullying is pervasive in our schools. National prevalence studies consistently show that roughly one in five students have been bullied regularly and a similar number have bullied others. Many others witness bullying going on around them, so in fact, there are millions of students who have to deal with the issue of bullying in our schools each day.
Students who bully generally bully students who they perceive as different and/or weaker than they are. Sometimes the bullying might be focused on a student’s family or something about the student that makes him or her stand out from the norm. Perhaps the student has two moms or two dads or lives with his or her grandparents. A bullied student might speak with a strong accent, or be of a racial or religious minority. A student might be bullied because of his or her size, or because he or she does not like to do the things that are expected for his or her gender. We are all too aware of how devastating the results of this kind of bullying can be, as we have heard all too often of students as young as 11 years old committing suicide after being severely bullied at school.
Dr. Dan Olweus, whose program has been researched for the past 30 years, clearly asserts that bullying is peer abuse and it is a civil rights issue. Our schools need to be a place where every student feels safe in school regardless of their family structure or identity. No student should be hurt, humiliated, or excluded at school. School is not a place that any student should fear. School should be a place where everyone feels welcome and a place where students enjoy learning and can grow as a part of a larger community.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) was brought to United States schools more than a decade ago. The guiding principles for the OBPP are:
1. Warmth, positive interest and involvement with students and their families are needed on the part of all adults in the school. The responsibility for developing and ensuring a safe and welcoming school climate rests with adults.
2. We need to set firm limits to unacceptable bullying behavior. Clear, consistent rules and messages against bullying behaviors should be present throughout the entire school.
3. Consistent use of nonphysical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken. Because OBPP is research-based, program procedures and guidelines should be followed as closely as possible.
4. Adults in the schools should function as authorities and positive role models. Children learn by example from all adults; teachers and their families.
The content of Welcoming Schools is in alignment with these guiding principles. Welcoming Schools helps the adults in the school become comfortable with interrupting bias-based bullying. Welcoming Schools involves families and the larger community. And Welcoming Schools helps adults proactively create a school climate that is welcoming of the diversity that we find in our schools. Welcoming Schools helps remind us that it is possible to create positive school climates that limit negative behavior and promote respect for all students.
The more we can work together to promote consistent messages against bullying behaviors, our children will learn, thrive and realize their dreams for their futures.
One thing that I think the HRC is doing right is their involvement with anti-bullying campaigns. Now I teach in a private school where the environment is far from being accepting. In fact our principal believes that bullying is good for the kids because it teaches them to conform to societal norms. We are not all Baptist, right-wing, Tea Partiers. Some of us are good loving Christians who welcome the diversity that is in our world. Needless to say, but with our principals attitude toward bullying and his politics, there is no way that our school could have a gay/straight alliance or any other kind of alternative group where everyone could feel safe. Instead the only real student club is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, whose sponsoring teacher firmly believes that it really should be the Fellowship of Christian Students because all students, not just athletes should feel welcome. I really admire the faculty sponsor for this club. He is truly a good hearted Christian, who like me believes in acceptance, not hate.
The point I am getting to is that we may not be able to have a GSA in every school, but we can still provide a safe and welcoming environment for all, no matter what amount of diversity they have. In my classroom the students know by now that I do not tolerate the word “nigger” or “faggot".” I do not allow bullying or any anti-gay slurs. In my classroom, all students are equal and treated with respect. I don’t care if they are gay, straight, bisexual, closeted, curious, etc. I don’t care if they are black, white, Muslim, Asian, or Native American. They are my students. They are there to learn. They are there to feel safe. They are there to have me teach them. I will admit that one of the freedoms that I have with teaching at a private school is that I can teach using Christian examples, and I can teach Christian love and acceptance. At least once every two weeks, they have to hear me give my lecture about The Golden Rule. I may not be able to stand in front of my class and say that I am gay and if anyone needs to talk, if anyone is having problems, I understand, and I am hear to listen and give advice. However, I can stand in front of the class and teach tolerance, love, and charity and say if anyone needs to talk, if anyone is having problems, I understand, and I am hear to listen and give advice.
I hope that all LGBT educators out there will do the same. We may not always have the option of being out of the closet at school, but we control the environment in our own classroom. We can teach tolerance. We can teach love and acceptance. If we are able to teach one mind these things, then we have made a difference. If they admire us in the classroom, they may one day want to emulate us, and we have made a difference. It may be a slow process but as Booker T. Washington said at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895 in what became known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech:
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal,“Water, water; we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time the signal, “Water, water; send us water!” ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.
Sometimes, our situations are not perfect. Sometimes you have to work with what you have. Sometimes you have to “Cast down your bucket where you are.” When you can, fight for what you believe in. The HRC has the money and influence to make a difference, they no longer need to “Cast down their bucket where they are.” Not all of us have money influence in power and must “Cast down our bucket where we are.” So my message is, teach tolerance in all that you do.
Do unto others, as you would have then do unto you.
By the way, here is an interesting link for GLBT teachers out there: