Why bullies are a good thing
April 16th, 2011
It can perplex us at times why strident anti-gay activists would oppose programs designed to reduce bullying. We see the destruction and death that result and think that surely any decent moral person would want to change that dynamic.
But Robert Knight provides us with insight as to why anti-gays not only refuse to join the campaign against bullying but actively oppose it.
Confronting bullies helps build character.
It isn’t often that one sentence can be lifted from an essay and, on its own without any context, provide understanding into a worldview. But I believe this to be just such a sentence.
Bullies are good for kids. And as for those gay kids who were tormented to death… I guess they just didn’t build character.
Obamas Speak Out Against Bullying
March 9th, 2011
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will host an anti-bullying conference at the Whte House tomorrow which will be streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov. The conference includes teachers, students, and community leaders, and will include online live chats. In preparation for the conference, the President and First Lady recorded this Facebook message.
Last October, President Obama released a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at stemming the epidemic of youth suicides brought on by bullying.
“Daphne’s” Mom Refuses To Bend
February 7th, 2011
Remember the mom who let her five-year-old son dress as the Scooby-Doo character Daphne for Halloween? The mother, identified only as “Sarah”, got a lot of flack over it from other moms at her son’s school. That was three months ago and the controversy still hasn’t died down. This time it’s Sarah’s church getting into the act, accusing her of “libel and slander” — even though Sarah only named the other moms as mother’s A, B, and C. ABC News has this update:
(On January 26), Sarah said she was called in for another meeting, in which the pastor told her she needed to apologize to the mothers whose comments she had mentioned in “My Son Is Gay.” She said the pastor also accused Sarah of “libel and slander, and told her that she “had taken offense [from the women] where none was intended.”
The pastor offered Sarah four steps to restore her relationships with the mothers, including writing an apology, taking down the blog post and perhaps taking down the entire blog. “I was told not to take Communion and that I may have my membership revoked if I didn’t reconcile,” Sarah said.
After Sarah complained to church elders, her pastor called back and said that he would reconsider the withholding of communion. Sarah, who says she has no idea whether her son will grow up to be gay or not (I mean, really, all of this over a Halloween costume!), responded to her church on Monday:
I cannot tell you the betrayal I feel. The church, or at the very least Pastor is trying to bully me into shutting up, and I find that so disheartening. I am floored by the fact that they’ve gone to so much trouble regarding a post that discusses love and tolerance that was posted 3 months ago. I am shocked that they do not see the hypocrisy of what they are saying to me. I am in complete disbelief that this has been handled in the way it has. I have never felt less welcome in a church.
This is not the church that I grew up in. This is not the God that I know.
And again I say to you that bullying is not okay, even if you wrap it in a bow and call it ‘spiritual care.’
Denial over Lance Lundsten’s death
January 25th, 2011
Suicide can devastate a family, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.
But it is not unusual for other family members to find peace by adopting a position of denial and looking for any other possible explanation, a scenario in which they can be absolved of their self-imposed guilt. This might be by finding another culprit to blame (“her bad-influence friends”) or by simply pretending that the suicide never happened (“that was an accidental overdose”).
So I did not find it surprising that Lance Lundsten’s father had declared that Lundsten had not ended his own life but rather had died due a coronary edema brought on by an enlarged heart. According to the coroner this was simply not true, but undoubtedly the discovery of this incidental medical condition allowed Lance’s father to concoct an alternate reality in which there was no blame or shame or regret.
But denial is not healthy, and there are times when it is appropriate to ask oneself, “Did I contribute to this, should I change?” And in the story of Lance Lundsten, I am finding more than a few, family and community alike, who are unwilling – or afraid – to look at themselves too closely to see what part they might have played in Lance’s death.
The coroner’s toxicology reports are not in and at this point we simply do not know the cause of Lance’s death. And even if suicide is determined to be the cause, it is not possible to identify which specific pressures were felt the greatest or what incidents contributed most to his state of mind. But we can readily identify some facts of Lance’s life that would be troublesome to most teens.
Lance’s family life was not without complication. Although his father has asserted his role as family spokesman, Lance actually lived with his grandparents and comments he made on his Facebook page suggest that his relationship with his parents was strained. Further, this tension appears to be due, at least in part, to religious differences, likely due to his sexual orientation.
We also know that the administration at Jefferson High School is not supportive of gay students. The school policies do not ban anti-gay discrimination or harassment, and fellow gay student Caleb Shafer reports that the school would not protect him from bullies. It is telling that District 206 Superintendent Terry Quist released a statement about Lance’s death that went out of its way to avoid any mention of Lundsten’s sexual orientation or bullying of any kind and suggested that the “respectful” way to “honor Lance’s memory” would be to ignore all of the concerns his friends have raised.
But the denial and refusal to consider Lance as who he was, rather than the person they wish he was, extends beyond his parents and his school. The community in Alexandria seems determined not to address whether their gay kids are being tormented and refuse to see Lance’s death as a means of introducing that discussion.
The local newspaper, aptly named the Echo, went so far as to run an editorial in which they repeated the father’s assertions, even though the coroner had disputed them, and chastised Lance’s classmates and the local TV news for suggesting otherwise. (Echo)
Before people started gossiping and drawing conclusions on the Internet, they should have stopped and considered the family. They should have asked themselves if they would have liked the same kind of unsubstantiated rumors swirling around about someone in their own family.
Unfortunately, whipped up by the Facebook frenzy, the distorted story of Lundsten’s death took on a life of its own. A TV station reported about the Facebook speculations and it snowballed quickly from there, getting reported by other media outlets as well – a sad case of media reporting what other media were reporting, even though it was untrue.
Some Jefferson High School students threatened a walk out, believing the school wasn’t taking the bullying issue seriously enough.
Anti-bullying groups were quick to pick up on the death, spreading the story further. U.S. Senator Al Franken called attention to the incident to drum up support for anti-bullying legislation. Images of Lundsten connected to headlines of bullying and suicide popped up all over the Internet – even on a website in France.
It shouldn’t have happened this way.
Although the editorial never once uses the word gay or mentions that Lance publicly identified as such, it isn’t too hard to figure out who the Echo means by “anti-bullying groups” that didn’t “consider the family.” And they clearly feel betrayed and angry at KSAX for daring to suggest that perhaps something is amiss in Alexandria. (CityPages)
It’s true that Lundsten’s death has not yet been ruled a suicide–toxicology test results aren’t expected back for more than a month. But the Echo Press has been insisting all week that Lundsten’s death wasn’t a suicide, without even bothering to pick up the phone and call the medical examiner. Isn’t that rush to judgment exactly what they’re accusing Lundsten’s classmates of doing on Facebook?
“Absolutely not,” Edenloff told City Pages today. “I’d much rather report what a family member said than a bunch of kids who didn’t even know what he was all about.”
Edenloff says the coverage by KSAX and the internet response to the story have painted Jefferson High School and the city of Alexandria unfairly.
“The school and the city have been portrayed as really backwards on this,” Edenloff says. “The idea that we’re a backwoods little punkwood town that doesn’t know how to deal with these issues is totally false.”
Suicide can devastate a community, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.
Others, like Lance’s father, the administration of Lance’s school, and the local newspaper have adopted a position of denial. They don’t want to know whether they played a part. They would rather tell themselves pretty stories than consider what they could have done differently, what they contributed, or how they could change.
Lance Lundsten update
January 20th, 2011
More information is coming out about Lance Lundsten’s death, and some of it is contradictory. As is sometimes the case in these situations, answers are not easy.
Lance’s father, understandably, took an autopsy finding and clung to the hope that Lance’s death was natural (Herald)
Lance’s father called KSAX and said he received a call from the coroner saying Lance had an enlarged heart and died of a coronary edema. He said he believed it was not a suicide.
He also believed there were no signs of drugs or alcohol in his son’s system, but the toxicology report has not been finished according the medical examiner’s office.
However, the coroner has said that this was not the cause. (KSAX)
The preliminary findings in the autopsy of 18-year-old Lance Lundsten showed the teen did not die from an enlarged heart, according to Douglas County Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Spanbauer.
The teen’s heart was slightly enlarged, but that finding was a secondary finding to an undetermined cause, according to Spanbauer.
Lance’s will be determined by the medical examiner after the autopsy process and laboratory testing is complete, a process that may take weeks.
Meanwhile, another gay kid has gone on record about the atmosphere at Jefferson. (KSAX)
The death of 18-year-old Jefferson High School student Lance Lundsten caused several to speak out about bullying in Greater Minnesota schools. Nineteen-year-old Caleb Shafer said he was bullied from middle school through high school.
“I was suicidal,” Shafer said. “I was very depressed … I didn’t want to talk to anyone … I would cry myself to sleep.”
Shafer attended Jefferson High School at the same time Lundsten did.
The school district has responded – predictably – by pretending that the situation didn’t happen and that there is no bullying going on at all. (KSAX)
At times like this, people are trying to make sense of the loss. We are aware that statements attributed to unidentified students have been reported by the media. However we have no information regarding the source of or any factual basis for the statements. It would be disrespectful, as well as a violation of privacy laws for us to engage in speculation regarding the cause or circumstances of Lance’s death. Today, and in the days ahead, we need to pull together and honor Lance’s memory.
Missing from the four paragraph letter were the words “gay” and “bullying” and “suicide” and “problem” and “policy” and “correct” and ” avoid.” Nope. Nothing to see here, folks, move on along.
But they are going to offer counseling for those students who are having “a tough day.”
Although this story hasn’t, as best we can tell, seemed to much impact the administration at Jefferson other than perhaps some minor inconvenience, it has changed the perspective of one student. Alex Sonju, in his words:
This is the Truth
As most of you know, a kid in my school commited suicide due to bullying him about his sexual preferance.
I never thought it would be a reality. I’ve heard about suicide, and thought to myself “Wow, that’s horrible”, then went on with my normal day. But when someone in my own town, in my own school does it, it really changes my thinking.(found out it’s a heart condition, but i still feel exactly the same on this issue) It makes me think of how just a few words can change so many lives. To anyone I’ve ever said anything mean about, I truely am sorry. I don’t care if it was as a joke, or if I was serious. We’re all guilty of saying mean things. Joking or not. Because in turn, those jokes, cause death.
Now a days, bullying isnt the typical “give me your lunch money” or getting beat up at recess. Today’s bullying is much different. I know what it’s like to hear mean things. I’ve been called gay before, I’ve been called fat, I’ve been laughed at, I’ve been talked about. And to all those people that have done this to me, I forgive you. I hope with Lance’s story, it serves as a wake up call to everyone. Your friends might find it hilarious, you might get a couple high fives from them, but what are they gonna be doing when you tell them “I’m the reason someone killed themself! High five anyone?” No.
I pray to God that Jefferson will change from this. I hope that teachers won’t just sit by and stare anymore. I hope more kids will stand up. I know I will. I’ll do it for you Lance. I don’t care if I don’t like the kid they’re making fun of, or if I love them. I don’t care if they’re black or white. I don’t care if they’re gay or straight. I won’t care. I know it will take alot of strength, but I’d rather stand up for someone, then to see them go. And I hope you do the same.
Most of the time though, when you do confront a bully, they usually say “I was joking”. Yeah, well, sorry to say this, but suicide isn’t a joke. Either is any form of self harm. In fact, it’s the opposite of a joke. Some people say that self harm is a way to attract attention… well, it kind of is. It’s like they’re trying to tell people “look what your doing to me”. And it’s also trying to tell everyone else “I need help”. Most of the time, all they need is someone to talk to, someone to have trust in. I’ve been at some low points in life. I’ve been made fun of. I know what it’s like. The thing that would have helped me the most is easily someone to talk to. Just someone that will say “hey, how are you”. Just by talking to that one person, it shows that you care. So, that’s why if anyone, and I mean anyone, want’s to talk, about anything at all, PLEASE talk to me. I’d love to talk to you. I know I might not seem like the person that would be able to hold a serious conversation, but believe me, I can have deep heart to heart talks. If you ever want to talk, feel free to talk to me on chat, or message me.
Well, I could go on for hours, but I think I would bore you guys. I’m just trying to get across my point that bullying is serious, and if you guys ever need to talk, I am ALWAYS here for you. You guys are all loved, and your all amazing people, no matter what anyone says.
It’s really all so predictable. At some point school administrators have to act or accept the blame for their failure to do so.
January 17th, 2011
We’ve all seen dating ads that say, “Looking for White, Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern.” Those ads don’t need to tell you who they aren’t looking for, when you read the list you know exactly what is meant. You know who need not apply, who isn’t “their type”.
And when I hear the list of who is protected from harassment and discrimination and it runs merrily on with a list of everyone but the LGBT community, I know what that means as well. No one is fooled. Especially the kids.
This is from the student/parent handbook for Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Minnesota:
E. Verbal Assaults: Verbal assaults are abusive, threatening, profane, or obscene language, oral or written, toward a staff member or another student. This includes, but is not limited to, conduct which degrades people because of their race, sex, religion, ethnic background, physical or mental handicaps.
And “the majority of violations” of policy “that occur in the schools” include:
Assaults that are abusive, threatening, profane, or obscene whether oral, visual or written, toward a staff member or another student. This includes, but is not limited to, conduct which degrades people because of their race, sex, religion, ethnic background, physical or
If it’s religious, racial or sexual assault, then the Human Rights Officer is notified. But if it’s sexual orientation or gender identity then I guess no one cares at all. Or they certainly didn’t care enough to list it in their handbook.
On Saturday Jefferson High School Student Lance Lundsten committed suicide. (Dallas Voice)
According to his Facebook page, Lundsten was openly gay. On a Facebook memorial page in Lundsten’s honor, friends said that Lundsten had been bullied at school for his sexual orientation. Some students who knew Lundsten believed the bullying may have led to his suicide.
Look, this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, I’m sick of writing this story. Over and over, changing the names but little else.
And again and again it’s the same pattern: a school that couldn’t care less, mean kids picking on the gay kid, frustrated parents and friends. And it’s not like we don’t already know what happens when you stick some gay kid in a tiny town where he or she is bullied and no one responds.
And they are all sooo surprised, sooo convinced that everything was just hunky-dory. As Principle Chad Duwenhoegger says on the school website:
We are very proud of our students. We have several leadership teams that provide a voice and an ability to create a culture and climate where all students feel comfortable and connected. Our students have taken ownership of Jefferson and strive to create an environment that is welcoming to anyone who enters our building.
I am so very sick of school administrators who do nothing or who assume that “it won’t happen here”, not with their lovely little good straight white Christian students in middle-America.
Well I have a message to the Principle Chads out there: Yes, it happens here. Right here where you made no effort to stop it. Right here where your policies said we’ll protect everyone except the queer kids. Right here where you are busy crafting a statement to release to the press which absolves yourself from any guilt over the fact that it was all so completely predictable.
Gay kids, socially stigmatized or “not so different”?
An OpinionAn Opinion
January 3rd, 2011
I’m always a bit hesitant about the research of Lisa Diamond, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah. Her conclusions – frequently quoted (or misquoted) by proponents of change therapy – too often seem to be on the outer edge of conventional thinking and I am troubled that her methods of communication lend themselves too easily to misinterpretation. I really haven’t reached my own conclusion as to whether Diamond is a revolutionary genius or a nut. Or perhaps a bit of both.
But I have developed an opinion about Dr. Ritch C. Savin-Williams, director of Cornell’s Sex and Gender Lab. In much of his writing, I appears to me that he starts with his conclusions and finds whatever is available to support them. Savin-Williams is married to the post-gay notion that today’s youth (or perhaps tomorrow’s) have fully integrated into society and do not experience orientation identity but rather are attracted to whom they are attracted without any sense that such attraction is informative (my paraphrase). While this seems naive to my personal experiences, it does meld well with Diamond’s hypotheses on sexual fluidity.
In an article today in the New York Times health section, Diamond and Savin-Williams are the primary sources for the presentation of the idea that bullying and suicide of gay youth are over-blown fears and that most gay kids are just like straight kids. Some of their arguments have merit, others are just word games.
There is value in recognizing that times have changed and it is worth noting that many gay kids can be, and are, happy. Many – probably most – have supportive families and friends and a life that is no more difficult – or less difficult – that their heterosexual peers. And as we work towards a more-accepting culture, that will be increasing the norm.
But throwing out the attention currently given to bullying and suicide based on those kids who do have a life that is “not so different” seems to me to be a bit like saying that we don’t need to be concerned with unemployment in our current economy because most people are employed. The findings just don’t seem adequately related to the conclusions.
It’s nice to know, for example, that “young gays” in Diamond’s studies, “had as many friends and were just as popular and socially connected as other teenagers.” But this doesn’t seem to logically lead to “the effects of bullying and discrimination are often overplayed in the news media.”
One can have friends, especially friends who are also “stigmatized,” and still be bullied. That one can commiserate with a fellow victim, does not make the discrimination experienced any less hurtful. It would be equally valid to argue that there is no additional stress in being part of a tiny racial minority in one’s school – and that a daily diet of racial epithets are inconsequential – because one has a supportive family and are friends with the gay kid. In other words, nonsense generated by those who want to dismiss your pain.
Further, I find the arguments required to dismiss our concerns to be lacking in intellectual integrity, at best. Take, for example, Savin-Williams’ quibbling about the bullying and suicide issue:
These later studies find that straight youths are just as much at risk of being bullied if they exhibit atypical behavior, he said. Bullies react to nonconformity, and they pick up on people’s weaknesses.
“Bullying is less about sexuality than about gender nonconformity,” Dr. Savin-Williams said. “There are straight youth who are gender-atypical and they suffer as much as gay kids. But whether there’s a direct link between bullying and suicide among gay teens has not been shown.”
In other words, straight-acting closeted gay kids are not the victims of bullies, it’s the faggy kids, both gay and straight.
But Savin-Williams uses the term gender nonconformity in a deceptive way. He fails to disclose that gender non-conformity in children is the single greatest indicator of adult sexual identity; his distinction between gender non-conformity and sexuality in this context ignores the perspective of the bully; and finally, and most importantly, he fails to note the majority of victims of such acts.
When speaking of youth – even of post-adolescent youth – distinctions between gay and gender-nonconformist can be difficult. Strictly speaking, gay youth experience same-sex attraction either to the exclusion of opposite-sex attraction or disproportionately so, but self-identity or even self-recognition may not correlate. Cultural messages such as “I can’t be gay, I’m a Christian” or “I can’t be gay, I play soccer” or even “I can’t be gay because I had a sex dream about Miley Cyrus” can get mixed up with questions about self-worth, social acceptance, and one’s ability to identify with the outsider.
So while Savin-Williams is quite correct that straight youth who are gender-atypical are equally targets of bullying, his emphasis on implying that heterosexuals make up some sizable percentage of presumed-gay victims seems a bit premature. And really, beside the point. (And, considering that Savin-Williams argues that the “new gay teenager” rejects orientation labels, the use of such labels to argue against the seriousness of the situation offends me greatly.)
Kids who are bullied for gender-nonconformity are bullied because “he’s a fag” or “she’s a dyke” regardless of what orientation they claim. And the message is given to those who see it: “Don’t ‘be gay’ or you’ll be next.” Just as hate crimes target communities rather than individuals, anti-gay bullying sends a clear message to gay kids and to kids who haven’t figured out just where they fit on the orientation grid. Distinguishing between them seems arbitrary; if the bully doesn’t care that the victim isn’t really gay, why should that be a mitigating consideration in our anti-bullying efforts?
I am happy that the world is moving towards more inclusion of gay kids. But I don’t wear rose-colored glasses and I have no need to defend some post-gay ideology. I’m delighted that there are many kids who simply find their orientation as a matter of fact or discovery, but I am not going to ignore those who find their identity through the medium of a fist or a slur and I have little respect for those who have to split hairs in order to do so.
To my way of thinking, gay kids, gender-nonconforming kids, and kids who are bullied because someone thinks they may be gay are all part of my community. They all deserve to be protected. And, if kept safe, they can at some point in the future figure out their orientation.
Teachers who engaged in anti-gay bullying now suing school district
December 29th, 2010
The Anoka-Hennepin School Board is that lovely group in Minnesota that continues to have a policy that any mention of homosexuality be “neutral” – that is, non-existent – even though they have had nine student suicides in the past year, four of which were believe to be attributable to anti-gay bullying. Teachers, fearing that opposing anti-gay bullying would be a punishable violation of the policy, simply did nothing to intervene when presumed gay kids were tormented.
But now in some perverse irony, the school board is being sued by some of those to whom they had given implicit permission. (Minn Ind)
An Anoka-Hennepin School District teacher who was accused of harassing a student he thought was gay is suing the state because the Department of Human Rights disclosed his name in a report about the investigation. Walter Filson filed suit against the state of Minnesota late last week. Filson was one of two teachers accused of harassing Alex Merritt, who is not gay. Merritt got a $25,000 settlement from the school district in 2009.
Filson’s suit comes after a similar one filed by Diane Cleveland, whom the Department of Human Rights claimed conspired with Filson to harass Merritt. Earlier this year Cleveland won her lawsuit against the state. A judge ruled that the department should not have disclosed her name because she was not a defendant or plaintiff in the complaint; the department did not actually lodge any penalty against Cleveland or Filson but simply reported the accusations and the department’s conclusions.
Filson and Cleveland have denied repeatedly that they harassed Merritt.
The complaint filed by Filson last week said, “The harm caused to (Filson’s) reputation and privacy interests are irreparable.”
Interestingly, Merritt doesn’t identify as gay. But he was subjected to deliberate, intentional, homophobic bullying in an institutional environment by those who were entrusted by the state with power over him. He was the victim of long-term anti-gay abuse.
Just for some perspective, here are a few of the claims:
Beginning with the start of the 2007-2008 school year, Alex Merritt, a male high school student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District began to experience harassment from two of the respondent’s teachers, who perceived that the student was gay. Diane Cleveland singled him out on nearly a daily basis by making jokes, comments and innuendos about her perception of his sexual orientation. “Merritt’s fence swings both ways,” “Merritt’s boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class” and “Would you like to have [another allegedly gay student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?” were among the female teacher’s comments. Cleveland made her comments in front of other students and allowed them to laugh, and would share her comments with Walter Filson, another teacher. The male teacher would repeat, add his own jokes, and allow other students in the class to joke about the boy’s perceived sexual orientation.
Specifically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights verified
- When Cleveland learned that the student was doing a report on Ben Franklin for her class, she made comments in front of the class that implied that the student had a “thing for older men”;
- When Cleveland’s class was watching the 1989 film, Christmas Vacation, she covered the screen during a swimming pool/bathing suit scene and commented, “It’s OK if Merritt watches this because he isn’t into that sort of thing anyway… maybe if it was a guy.”
- When another student presented a report in Filson’s class regarding a deer that had been molested, a student said, “Hey, Mr. Filson, doesn’t that sound like something Alex Merritt would do?” The male teacher allegedly agreed and laughed.
- After students came to Filson’s classroom seeking male participates for a fashion show, he stated, “Take Merritt because he enjoys wearing woman’s clothes… he would love to be in the show.”
The School Board investigated, found the complaint to be true… and did virtually nothing. Cleveland was required to do one day of “reflecting on equality and diversity in the classroom” and was given a two-day suspension. Had the state not intervened, neither they nor the school board would have experienced much discomfort as consequence of tormenting a child. Only after the State Department of Human Rights rebuked the School Board, did they settle with Merrit’s family for $25,000.
It is important to note that the facts were confirmed by separate witnesses and are now incontrovertible. Two separate investigations reveal that Cleveland and Filson said and did exactly what they are accused of; they willfully engaged in bullying a child over his perceived sexual orientation.
In my opinion, these teachers should have been fired upon conclusion of the first investigation. They should have been stripped of any licenses or credentials they carry. They have violated the trust of the community in a most horrific way and should never be in a position where they supervise children again.
And, yes, they deserve to have their “reputation and privacy interests” harmed. People of good character should point at them and condemn them on the street. Jail time is not even out of the question, in my mind.
Instead they are suing, claiming that they “didn’t harass anyone” and their reputations have been damaged by the disclosure of what they did and said. And I’m sure that this School Board will happily give them money.
Evil, evil people.
Ed. Dept. begins to investigate bully schools
December 21st, 2010
And, in response, Federal education officials are looking into the circumstances leading to Seth’s death. (Press-Enterprise).
The probe was launched in response to a complaint from Seth Walsh’s mother that Tehachapi Unified School District employees failed to adequately address the years of bullying that preceded her son’s death last Sept. 28, spokesman Justin Hamilton said.
Seth’s mother Wendy Walsh said U.S. Department of Education investigators spent two days in Tehachapi last week interviewing students, teachers and administrators. She said she contacted them when her son, who hanged himself from a backyard tree on Sept. 19, was still hospitalized in a coma.
The school may be among the first to discover that America is sick of reading about children being bullied to death and that old “boys will be boys” attitudes can no longer cover incompetence, callousness, or tolerance of anti-gay bullying.
In late October, the Education Department’s civil rights division responded by reminding school districts and universities they could face administrative penalties and even lose federal funding if they fail to take concrete steps to counter anti-gay harassment about which they knew or “reasonably should have known.”
I think few doubt that the Tehachapi Unified School District reasonably should have known that their campuses were torture to students who are gay or perceived to be gay.
Anoka-Hennepin School Board to parents concerned about bullying: You’re all liars
December 16th, 2010
The Anoka-Hennepin School Board has a unique approach to the rather serious problem of bullying and suicide in their district: deny that it exists. Although there have been nine student suicides in the past year and significant media coverage of first-hand reports of bullying, the School Board has chosen to set aside testimony from parents and students and instead rely on their paperwork to “discover” that none of the bullied students that killed themselves were bullied.
Monday night’s meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was a contentious one as the issue of bullying and suicide in the district again came up. The state’s largest school district opened an investigation into the suicides of nine students over the past year — some by students who were allegedly bullied for their sexual orientation — and said that it found no evidence that any of the nine were bullied. Students and parents criticized the district for its statement — at times the conversation devolved to shouting — while district officials said there’s not much they can do if students and parents don’t report incidents to the schools.
No one – not one living person affiliated with these schools who has even the slightest smidgen of honesty and decency – is unaware of the fact that gay kids are being tormented in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. But the School Board seems determined not to know about it. (Minnesota Independent)
Over the last 18 months, the district has been at the heart of the debate over LGBT-bullying. In late 2009, a high-profile investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that two teachers in the district conspired to harass a student they thought was gay. The teachers went on leave, and the district paid $25,000 to the student.
Then, in July, the suicide death of gay 15-year-old Anoka student Justin Aaberg sparked an uproar. Parents, teachers and students held a series of press events and gave testimonials before the school board where advocates said that as many of four students took their lives at least in part because of bullying.
Carlson said that these statements by students, staff and parents at school board meetings weren’t truthful based on data from the district’s student services department.
“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” said Supt. Dennis Carlson
“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths. In a few instances, people told the school board and district leaders that employees stood by while a student was bullied. These statements are also not true. We have no evidence of that occurring.”
Nor are they likely to get “evidence.” Because a policy actively discourages students from reporting bullying based on sexual orientation and teachers from discussing it.
From 1995 until February 2009 (yes, last year), the School Board policy was to ban teachers – including health staff – from referring to homosexuality “as a normal, valid lifestyle.” In 2009, this policy was changed for the better:
“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.”
However, this is still well understood by teachers to continue to mean “don’t talk about this.” Any mention that Michelangelo was homosexual, or Alan Turing, or Harvey Milk, for that matter, was not “neutral.” So rather than risk punishment, teachers are forced to pretend that gay people don’t exist.
But worse, teachers assumed that stepping to stop anti-gay bullying – or even saying that such bullying was bad – was not “neutral” position. And, as Focus on the Family and other anti-gay activist groups have made clear, any opposition to anti-gay bullying is labeled “the homosexual agenda.” Nor did the district’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies include any mention of sexual orientation.
All of the discussion about not tormenting gay kids was “best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” like the Parents Action League where it can be augmented with such messages as gay people choose to be gay, are pedophiles, are rife with horrible diseases, and die 20 years before good wholesome real people. And besides, the blame for the suicides is “a continuous onslaught of pro-homosexual diversity”, anyway.
So bullying is rampant. And teachers were left with no message from the School Board that they should stop it and a more than subtle hint that they should not get involved.
Nor are students likely to report it themselves. As one teacher told the Independent “any mention of homosexuality is supposed to cause the teacher to make a referral to the counselor or school psychologist.” Rather than be protected, the kid is presumed to need mental health advice.
Finally in October of this year, after fiery denunciations of the Board from the parents of dead children, the Board revised their anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to list protected classes, including sexual orientation. But they angrily refuse to change the “neutrality” policy that silences any reference to gay people at all.
And the Board has dug in its heels and is absolutely refusing to acknowledge that anti-gay bullying really exists or that it is part of the problem of suicide in their district. The bullied children didn’t fill our the right paperwork, you see, so therefore it didn’t happen.
And that is enough for the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.
Glee’s bully: It Gets Better
November 16th, 2010
There are, by now, thousands of videos of those who have joined the It Gets Better Project all of whom tell bullied kids that some day life gets better. Max Adler, who plays the football player who bullies gay kid
Kirk Kurt, has added his voice.
These video range from amateur but sincere to polished and scripted. But few feel quite as natural and spontaneous as this one. Although I’ve more or less decided not to post any new It Gets Better Videos (there are so very many), I’m making an exception:
Straight Pride = Death
November 10th, 2010
I’m all for straight pride. I think that straight folk are pretty amazing, over all, and that there’s an awful lot of good that can be celebrated in the history, culture and contributions of straight people. I even think that taking a moment to acknowledge one’s orientation can make one respectful for the orientation of others. When you look closely at your own attractions and how that impacts the way you interact with others, it not only makes you a better person but more appreciative of the way that others interact.
But that’s not really what those who trumpet the slogan “straight pride” usually mean. They aren’t really proud or appreciative or contemplative or even much aware of heterosexuality. No, they just want to demonstrate their animus towards gay folk.
Take, for example, three students at St. Charles North High School in St. Charles, IL: (mysuburbanlife.com)
While this week is ally week at St. Charles North and East High Schools, a week meant to put an end to anti-gay and anti-lesbian bullying and harassment, a group of three students from St. Charles North High School wanted to express their own views.
Michael Fairbanks, president of the St. Charles East Gay-Straight Alliance, sent out an e-mail to the media last night saying a group of St. Charles North boys came to school yesterday with shirts that read “STRAIGHT PRIDE” on the front and “If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH,” a Bible verse from Leviticus 20:13.
I guess that they put “death” in capitals for some purpose and I can’t imagine that it was charitable. Taken in the context of the week, I guess they were trying to say, “No, gay students shouldn’t be defended from bullying, they should be killed instead.”
The school handled the situation intelligently.
St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 spokesman Jim Blaney said once the building administrators became aware of the shirts, the three students wearing them were called into the deans’ office to discuss the matter. They were sent back to class and later were called back for a second discussion.
Blaney said the administration wanted to explain to students that they have a right to express their point of view, but they also wanted to make the students aware that their message could be seen as hurtful by other students.
The kids agreed to cover up the death threat and not to wear the shirts again. They said that they didn’t really mean to harm anyone. Which, of course, isn’t true.
They probably didn’t mean for physical harm to come to any specific person, but they fully intended to harm what their parents (“good Christians”, no doubt) would call “the radical militant homosexual agenda” but which is, in reality, the message that gay kids should not be bullied.
But they did make a good illustration to prove the point of the gay-straight alliance, so it wasn’t all bad.
A mother refuses to be bullied by good concerned Christian women
November 4th, 2010
If you have not yet seen this, and you probably have, this here is the five year old son of Nerdy Apple Bottom. It’s Halloween and he’s Daphne. And his mother is not going to let you bully him about it.
If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.
If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one.
But it also was heartbreaking to me that my sweet, kind-hearted five year old was right to be worried. He knew that there were people like A, B, and C. And he, at 5, was concerned about how they would perceive him and what would happen to him.
Just as it was heartbreaking to those parents that have lost their children recently due to bullying. IT IS NOT OK TO BULLY. Even if you wrap it up in a bow and call it ‘concern.’ Those women were trying to bully me. And my son. MY son.
These good mothers at the Christian school would never ever think of themselves as bullies. But they are setting role models for their children, approving of condemnation and rejection and letting their kids know that they have the right to humiliate other kids who don’t dress up to their standards or live according to their gender expectations.
But I think this kid’s going to be okay. He has a cop for a father and a super-hero for a mother. I love this woman.
My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. And if you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.
Reaching the bullies
November 4th, 2010
I am pretty certain that were I a 14 year old kid, I would have almost zero interest in watching professional wrestling. But there are certainly plenty of boys who do, and it’s probably a fair assumption that those who are inclined to physically harass their classmates are among those more likely to be drawn to such entertainment.
So it is encouraging that Total Nonstop Action Wrestling has begun an anti-bullying campaign.
“Everyone at TNA stands firmly behind this new anti-bullying campaign. The bullying must stop, and we want to take a stand,” said TNA Chief Marketing Officer, Al Ovadia, himself a father of two. “There’s no place in our schools for bullying, be it based on a student’s looks, race, sexual orientation or anything else.”
Such “yeah, us too” campaigns may not seem to be as professionally prepared as those planned by child advocates, but they are of tremendous importance. Bullies may dismiss the efforts of the goodie-goodies, but when presumed safe havens for bullies – such as tough-guy wrestling sports – make it clear that bullying is not accepted by them either, it places importance on the issue.
When we as adults make it clear that no one – not churches, not tough guys, not conservatives, no one at all – accepts the torment of others, including less masculine boys and less feminine girls, then we will finally reach these kids. Let’s hope that those few voices who still give shelter to bullies and wink at their behavior – or justify it – are soon shamed into joining
My existence is not a violation of your rights
November 3rd, 2010
I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the notion of “balance” that some in the anti-gay industry are espousing.
I support the right of those who believe that homosexual acts are sinful and wish to encourage abstinence to have their voices heard. And those who think that the social acceptance of same-sex couples in society reduces public morality and will lead to social ills should be given the space to present their case.
But the false equivalencies that have been presented lately do not speak to an exchange of ideas, but rather to the assumptions of entitlement to which anti-gay activists think they are due.
The counterbalance to “I wish to advocate for gay rights” is not “you must be kept silent.” And there is no moral equivalency between “I wish to live unharmed” and “I wish to beat you to submission.” Yet these are not greatly exaggerated from that which we see presented.
Take, for example, Russian gay rights protesters who sued their country in the European Court after being denied the right to assemble. The court found last month that their rights had been violated and ordered that Russia allow for future gay rights demonstrations and assigned compensation.
The response to this decision by the Russian Orthodox Church is astonishing. (Interfax Religion)
“The decision made in Strasbourg essentially constitutes violence against the feelings and morals of the majority of [Russian] society. That will hardly help achieve the stated purpose to cultivate tolerance and achieve accord, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence,” Father Filaret said in an interview with Interfax-Religion.
Peaceful assembly is depicted by the church as “violence against the morals and feelings of society.” The real violence enacted against the physical bodies of gay people in Russia was given less concern by the church than the “violence” against anti-gays feelings.
Or take note of the equivalencies assigned by the school board in Howell, Michigan. (Livingston Daily)
- On October 20, Jay McDowell wore a purple shirt to class to express solidarity with students who are bullied for being (or being perceived as) gay or lesbian. This led to a discussion about bullying and why it should be opposed.
- One student, who had come to class with a Confederate Flag belt buckle was asked by McDowell to remove the item (she did).
- In response, a male student declared that he opposes rainbow flags because, “I don’t accept Gays. It is against my religion. I am Catholic.”
- McDowell attempted to explain how “I don’t accept” followed by any group was disruptive and when the student refused to back down, suspended him and another student from the class for the day.
As the Michigan Messenger describes it:
That student … and another student, were kicked out of McDowell’s Economic class after debating with the teacher about a third student’s Confederate flag belt buckle. The student questioned why it was OK for students to wear clothing to support LGBT issues, but not for a student to wear a Confederate flag.
In other words, why isn’t “I support” equivalent to “I don’t accept”? Shouldn’t both positions be given the same prominence and legal and moral weight?
No. Perhaps in some settings, but not this one.
Because the context of the debate was over the bullying of children. And in that context, “I don’t accept gays” is an implicit endorsement of bullying of school children. When speaking of bullying, “I don’t accept” is a justification for bullying.
Yet the school board found that McDowell violated the rights of these two boys to their free expression and reprimanded him. And in doing so, they made the following comparison:
You also state you routinely do not allow [the Confederate Flag] in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities. You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition.
McDowell actually does not display the rainbow flag. (And, indeed, if McDowell did use his class space to advocate for specific (or even general) political positions to the exclusion of other positions, I would agree that this was unfair.) But irrespective of that inaccuracy, consider what it means that the school board administration compared the two:
On one hand the Confederate Flag has a traceable history and an identifiable connection with acts of violence and advocacy of discrimination and intolerance towards people based on their racial and religious identity. In fact, in this particular high school it was linked to a Facebook Hate Group which, in 2009, used the flag as its profile picture and students have been required to remove the symbol from their cars. The Confederate Flag at Howell High was directly connected to a threat against some students.
On the other hand, the rainbow flag is linked with a set of social positions with which some students disagree. At most, it exists as a challenge to the beliefs of some students. But in the minds of this school board administration, a challenge to their beliefs is equivalent to – or worse than – a physical threat against others.
And so they accused McDowell of bullying the students, of denying their right to “not accept” their fellow students. In response to his defense of gay students from being bullied (or “not accepted”), they order him to “cease from engaging in the promotion of your personal social issues.”
For refusing to accept statements of intolerance in his classroom, the board accused McDowell of being intolerant.
Nonsense. Contrary to what anti-gay activists claim, tolerance is not defined by the extent to which it allows intolerance to prevail.
But perhaps most troubling is this instruction to McDowell: “Where controversial issues arise, be sure all sides of the controversial issue be explored without emotion and bias.” Think back to the originating situation, the reason for McDowell’s decision to wear purple: the suicide deaths of a number of gay and presumed-gay children.
What, I wonder, are “all sides” of the “controversial issue” that gay students should not be bullied to death?