Bullying: The Constant Companion Of LGBTQ Students
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
School has started. Children walk past our house shouldering serious backpacks. Early in the morning, streams of pre-teens and teenagers make their way to our town’s 40-odd schools. We wish that whatever school students go to, when they enter it will be a safe place to learn. But we know differently. Bullying was, is, and will remain a problem for American schools; especially for LGBTQ youth and for LGBTQ teachers and staff as well.
What Exactly Is Bullying?
Bullying is the underappreciated, constant companion of LGBTQ youth. Underappreciated, that is, by the people who bully, teachers, and parents. Children are bullied when they experience, repeatedly and over time, aggressively negative actions from one or more bullies against which they cannot defend themselves. Its impact is devastating: depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and suicidal thoughts. The impact is for life. People in their fifties relate that the consequences of bullying they received while in school is with them still. In their 2009 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported:
Nine out of ten LGBT students reported experiencing harassment during the school year. Nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation and over three quarters of students were harassed because of their gender identity. Almost a third of LGBT students were so worried about their safety they skipped at least one day of school each month.
National statistics are informative, but they hide more than reveal and they certainly don’t convey the pain and despair.
The Fremont Unified School District Safe School Survey
Back in the late 90s and to the middle 00s we founded and led the Coalition to Assure Respect in Schools (CARS), a local organization to make Fremont schools safe places to learn. After several years of arguing and making presentations, we were finally successful in convincing Fremont’s Board of Education to do a system wide survey. Called the “Safe-School Survey” it was administered to all district senior and junior high school students in May 2001. We had a 55% response rate and the results mirror those of the national 2009 GLSEN survey. A mild surprise was that when it came to bullying “Physical Size or Shape” was a close second to “Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Orientation.” Students call each other hurtful names all the time, but the survey also revealed that nearly ten percent of students heard teachers use homophobic slurs. Far more instructive for us were the interviews we did with students in preparation for the survey. Tearful histories of bullying for all kinds of reasons; emotional scars still present in people who graduated years ago.
The Survey Was Useful? Was It Successful?
What was the result of the survey? New policies, diversity training, open meetings with parents. Was the end goal achieved? No, though CARS has not been active for four years, we still hear of bullying and LGBTQ youth is still at risk. Our experience suggests that to eliminate bullying requires time, perhaps generations, and: an awareness that bullying exists and can leave lifetime scars, a system wide policy, procedures to implement the policy, training for teachers and students, enforcement, and a safe avenue to register policy violations, follow-up and resolve. But most of all what is needed are good people relentlessly dedicated to the idea that all students have the right to a safe place to prepare for life.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org