Protecting Gay Kids

Schools are finally getting tougher on gay bullying.

"When Matthew Shepard died, that's when folks really started to really pay attention to what was happening in the lesbian, gay, bisexual community outside of AIDS, and really focusing on youth," says Laura McGinnis, communications director for The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention group headquartered in West Hollywood, California.

Allies of gay youth compiled research showing gay teens are overwhelmingly more likely than heterosexuals to face harassment at school. The most recent figures from GLSEN reported that 84.6 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed. A third of gay kids had skipped school within the past month because they were afraid of their classmates.

A Northwestern University researcher just published the first longitudinal study on LGBT youth and suicide. It found that victims of bullying were two and a half times more likely to attempt suicide or hurt themselves. It also showed that even when the kids had supportive figures in their lives, harassment still correlated strongly with suicidal thoughts.

Becky Collins, right, says her 15-year-old son Zach King, left, was attacked and beaten in a classroom because he is gay.
Courtesy of the ACLU
Becky Collins, right, says her 15-year-old son Zach King, left, was attacked and beaten in a classroom because he is gay.
Sex columnist Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller, left, appear in the inaugural It Gets Better video.
Sex columnist Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller, left, appear in the inaugural It Gets Better video.

"The vast majority of LGBT youth in our sample had experienced some kind of victimization," says Dr. Brian Mustanski, the lead author and director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program. "People had spit on them or yelled at them, threatened or physically attacked them."

By the time the suicides of September 2010 arrived, the correlation between gay bullying and self-harm was becoming too obvious to ignore.

"We should no longer accept the idea that bullying is a rite of passage for young people," says Carolyn Laub, the founder and executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, based in California. "What we know from years of practice on the ground is that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment and name-calling are learned behaviors, and they can be interrupted and stopped."
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What gay students go through isn't bullying as it's conventionally understood.

"Those kids have not been bullied; they've been harassed," says Dr. Susan Strauss, author of Sexual Harassment and Bullying: A Guide to Keeping Kids Safe and Holding Schools Accountable. "It requires the schools to respond differently. It's important for parents to know if the school doesn't respond, they can file charges with the state's Department of Civil Rights."

In one GLSEN survey, a scant 9 percent of school principals believed anti-gay bullying was happening "often" in their schools. Nearly all of the schools had anti-bullying policies in place, but only 46 percent specifically mentioned sexual orientation. Similarly, 49 states have anti-bullying laws on the books, but only 14 of them include protection based specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"You can craft that in such a way that the school has the ability to really step in with any bullying it sees, and at the same time put other schools and students on notice," says Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director with the Human Rights Campaign, headquartered in Washington DC. "There are certain types of bullying that occur more frequently and are a huge problem, and we won't ignore it."

It's not just a matter of semantics. A growing body of research shows that students who attend schools with "enumerated" gay bullying policies heard fewer slurs and were one-third less likely to skip class. A California Safe Schools Coalition report found that kids felt safer in school when they knew they had access to information about LGBT issues.

"We know that there are things that happen in a school that make it less likely for these kinds of behaviors to be enacted," says Dr. Stacey Horn, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

That makes laws that attempt to cover up the gay bullying problem all the more insidious. States that have "no homo promo" laws on the books have significantly fewer Gay Straight Alliances. This year, "Don't Say Gay" laws gained traction in Tennessee, Utah and Missouri — they would make any mention of homosexuality in school impermissible.

And there are troubling new programs schools use to block potentially life-saving information. In Camdenton, Missouri, a school district fought back when the ACLU's Don't Filter Me Campaign asked it to dismantle Web filtering software that prevented access to educational LGBT Web sites like Campus Pride. In the ensuing court case, a federal judge ruled that "Camdenton's Internet-filter system stigmatizes, or at least burdens, Web sites expressing a positive view toward LGBT issues."

Camdenton may not be the worst of it, according to Chris Hampton, of the ACLU's LGBT Project. "We got tons of reports of this going on all over the place," she says. "We even found a few schools that blocked us while 'pray away the gay' Web sites are accessible."

In the Internet age, bullying doesn't stop when kids leave school — it continues online.

Take Zach King for example. A 15-year-old boy from rural Ohio, King was beaten so badly in a high school classroom that two of his teeth were chipped. But it wasn't until King got home and logged in that he realized the beating had been recorded with a cell phone camera.

"It was posted to his Facebook wall," says Becky Collins, Zach's mom. "The wording was worse than the actual fight: 'Ha-ha, my cousin beat the fuck out of Zach King.'"

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37 comments
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Andy
Andy

Hex, of course you do. I think that everyone believes that effort should be made to keep kids from hurting/killing themselves, but what I'm saying is, help the person with the problem... stop making them everyone elses problem.

Andy
Andy

Nice jab at the Republican Presidential Candidate. I notice you didn't take similar issue with President Obamas self-proclaimed bullying of a girl during his school boy days. Personally, I could care less about either instance. Childhood is the time that we humans are supposed to learn how to deal with adversity such as bullies. Kids get bullied. Kids are cruel. It will never change. You can tilt at windmills all you want to and you'll probably reach some kids, but you'll never reach them all and when they grow up their paths will ultimately cross. Who do you think will have the advantage? People commit suicide for all types of reasons, but it ultimately boils down to the fact that the person in question was mentally ill to begin with. You do-gooders are all the same. You don't think things through to the conclusion and NEVER view all of the facts. Just grab hold of a cause, find a couple of poster-kids, and full steam ahead!

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Jessica, Kids attend school in America for approximately 6.5 hours during a 24 hour day and for only 9 months of the year. And at least 70% of their time in school is spent in class studying the curriculum such as chemistry, algebra, history and literature.

When the kids go home after school their parents and 99% of their neighbors have no thoughts about chemistry, algebra, history and literature and spend no time discussing such subjects. There is no prevailing community standards about algebra.

Why would you think the schools - alone - can make even a small dent in changing community standards with respect to whom their children love?

Where are your programming recommendations for a community wide collaborate approach to teaching tolerance and acceptance within the community.

You write like one more 'on-fire' feminist who is going to right some wrong and hasn't a clue how to pull it off ... locally.

Guest
Guest

Another fucking moron.

Kids are bullied for all kinds of reasons, not just because of their sexuality.

Anse
Anse

True. But when one particular reason can be identified, it's important to address it. This notion that we must make no distinctions between the underlying rationale for these incidents of bullying is just another way to ignore the underlying prejudice and pretend that it makes no difference. Once kids realize that mistreating gay people because they're gay is wrong, they might understand that it's not only wrong at school, but everywhere in society. But I suspect that's not really what some folks want. I suspect that some people downplay the underlying reasons for this harrassment because, truth be told, they think homosexuals have it coming.

HariKari
HariKari

Suicide is a choice. A bad choice. If I choose suicide, no one made me do it but I.

Yulia Woosan
Yulia Woosan

Maybe with sociopaths who are trying to manipulate someone, but most humans who commit suicide are emotionally wounded and/or truly believe there is no choice. Humans are NOT robots

Guest
Guest

So schools are now only interested in protecting gay kids not heterosexual kids?

Rbyrd2531
Rbyrd2531

I think you are missing the point. Always before it was considered ok by society and teachers to bully gay kids.

Guest
Guest

Even if you believe that to be true, there is no way to prove it. Therefore I believe that your conclusions are something you just pulled from you nether regions.

In my experience growing, some teachers did indeed turn a blind eye to bullying, but it was due to workload and not wanting to get involved with parents, not because the sexuality of students one way or another.

Plus there are far more gay kids than there were before and kids have always bullied other kids no matter if they are homosexual or heterosexual.

Anse
Anse

Straight kids are being harrassed for being straight? I didn't know. Got any examples of this happening?

Guest
Guest

You obviously can't read or you just like making shit up.

I never said that it was ok to bully anyone no matter what their sexuality is. It's rather silly and disengenious to focus on bullying just because of someone's sexuality if your are not going to address bullying as it relates to all vulnerable children.

But you and others like you seem too dense to recognize this fact.

And again, your conclusions about the number of gay kids is just something you either heard on TeeVee or from some gay advocacy group, or again just something you made up because you have no rational argument otherwise.

VivaLaGalgo
VivaLaGalgo

Bullying and or harassment for being gay, or for any reason is wrong and inexcusable. Based on your statements, you don't seem to understand that. There are not more gay kids today vs when you were in school, there are just more open gay kids today.

Garland Norris
Garland Norris

The article says: "In Texas, sex-ed classes are required to teach that homosexuality is "not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense." "

Erm, the sodomy laws were struck down after Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. How can this still be stated?

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Despite the fact that anti-sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional in 2003, the Texas legislature never repealed the section of the penal code criminalizing homosexual behavior (21.06). Technically, the state penal code lists it as a criminal offense, and therefore the Texas Health and Safety Code clauses dealing with sex ed still refer to it as a criminal offense.

Yulia Wusan
Yulia Wusan

Are school districts actually saying this? Has the state tried to force school districts to abide by this even though the sodomy law is unconstitutional? There are many laws which are simply not enforced

Vonnegan
Vonnegan

So the reporter finds the law and writes about it as if it could legally be enforced, even though it's obviously unconstititional to do so. Lazy, bad reporting.

Yulia Wusan
Yulia Wusan

I understand that state lawmakers have consistently discriminated against gays and that the laws technically are on the books, and reflect this trend. But the reporter should have said "that law, technically still in Texas law, was invalidated in 2003 by the Supreme Court" and he should have tried to determine if Texas schools actually follow the command to say that it's illegal in Texas and/or if the TEA tries to enforce it

Anse
Anse

It's not bad reporting. It's the truth. What you ought to ponder is the fact that the state has made no effort to make state law constitutional, which itself betrays a persistent prejudice against homosexuals. I think the point he is making is entirely clear to anybody of average intelligence.

Anse
Anse

Maybe instead of teaching the children such wussy liberal values as treating each other with a modicum of common decency, we should just build steel cages on campus playgrounds. The schools could hold Thunderdome Fridays, and the children could settle their differences the "manly" way. They could sell concessions. Heck, it could be a money maker, cover the education budget shortfall.

VivaLaGalgo
VivaLaGalgo

Let's make it more of a "Hunger Games" themed Friday, how's that?

Razor
Razor

So, this whole article was written to campaign for Obama, not to protect gay kids... Right?

Craigley
Craigley

The 8-9% of the population is suddenly getting treated like the majority.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Oh give me a god damn break. Shit, just because people look down upon playing smear the queer, that doesn't mean they are being treated like the majority.

Craigley
Craigley

My cat and bird are going to simply LOVE this print edition. And my dead fish too.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Because not harassing gay kids to the point of suicide is a bad thing?

Craigley
Craigley

No. Because we need to start teaching kids who are bullied to fight back. This zero tolerance run and hide approach is making weak kids weaker. Teach kids to fight back and be tough. The world has enough dang wimps.

Kenostos1911
Kenostos1911

I believe that Craigley does in fact understand the "Zero Tolerance" policy and takes issue with it as I do. Self Defence is a human right. Bullied kids are left helpless, unable to even defend themselves for fear of scholastic and criminal penalties. Far better to rely on one's self for personal safety than the inept or uncaring personnel in the school. We need to stop teaching kids that being a victim is their only option; bullies seek out those that they perceive as weak. I'd pay good money to see the reactions of bullies after they get their asses handed to them by queer kids.

Anse
Anse

What "real world' is this, anyway? I got through high school without getting teased or bullied; never got into any fights. It wasn't because I was a tough guy. It was only because I wasn't different, which is the only reason these kids are targeted.

But you can teach your kid whatever you want. This will never be taken seriously as an official school policy. It would be insane to think so. Schools demand that students respect their teachers and administrators; in Houston ISD, a student can be suspended or removed from campus for violent outbursts, cussing out a teacher, or other repeated disruptions. Should we tell teachers to just deal with this "real world," just fight back, not expect any help from the administration? Or could we require students to extend that respect to their classmates, too? The truth is that you don't think gay kids deserve this kind of respect. I think you actually believe they have it coming, just because they're gay.

VivaLaGalgo
VivaLaGalgo

Asshole-ness is learned behavior. Kids usually learn from their parents. And Mr Craigley seems to not understand that schools usually have a zero tolerance for fighting, self defense or not. Promoting violence among school kids is, in a word, juvenile.

H_e_x
H_e_x

I say we try to change people and teach them not to be macho assholes who pick on the weak.

H_e_x
H_e_x

I just don't think violence will solve this problem. What if the bully is 150 pounds bigger than your kid? Are you going to tell him to take a swipe? How about we teach our kids not to be assholes? Is that so hard? If you have kids, tell them not to be assholes, please.

Craigley
Craigley

Spoken like the kid-less man that you are.

Craigley
Craigley

I say we prepare them for a life based in reality

H_e_x
H_e_x

Oh damn, we have an internet tough guy. Hey buddy, meet me behind the swings and we can work out our problems. We can them commiserate over gushers and big league chew.

Alnora1227
Alnora1227

They ARE fighting back using the legal system to demand rights they should have as individuals, Americans, and children. Only an ignorant moron would advise violence as the best response to bullying. Kids have already tried that. It's called Columbine.

Anse
Anse

Schools should teach the kids to fight back? What kind of absolute nutcase idea is that? Violence is intolerable to a civilized society, or at least it should be. Or maybe you think we should just arm the children; you know, let them "stand their ground."

What insane crazy bullshit.

 
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