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.
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:
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.”
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