Eliza Byard on LGBT Bullying and Prevention
Eliza Byard is the Executive Director of GLSEN.
"At the core of this case, is a situation involving a girlfriend and a boyfriend breaking up, right? The preoccupation of 6th and 7th graders with heterosexual relationships and the relationships between boys and girls is a painful fact of life for student who in the middle grades may be coming to terms with their own emerging sexuality. What we know in terms of bullying, violence, and harassment is that the middle grades are actually severely more violent for any student that does come out in 6th 7th 8th grade than high schools really proportionately. Nearly 40% of out middle school students report physical assault. In the high school grades, it’s closer to 20% of the total sample. So the experience in middle school of these questions of emerging sexuality and the violence of the direct response is much more pronounced.
When you’re dealing with issues of bias and prejudice that complicate adult responses to these situations, it’s critical to remember that we live in a country where 8 states still have restrictions on how teachers can talk about homosexuality – if at all – in their classrooms. There are local school districts that have policies that prohibit positive discussions of homosexuality in public schools, whatever’s meant by that. So we know that that communicates very powerfully to students already, a sense of a group of people who are outside the community dynamics. You can’t even talk about lesbian and gay people, transgender and bisexual people in the classroom even though, those people are part of every school community, part of our history, and that kind of exclusionary language, is key to how young people hurt each other and exert power over one another. So it is absolutely critical that adults be able to examine their own thinking and that the reality of the presence of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people in our history, and in our current life, be part of what students learn about, just as they learn about other communities contributions to the life of this country. It is simply dishonest and untrue and tremendously damaging to young people to try to pretend that LGBT don’t exist and they aren’t part of the fabric of our society.
Over the last ten years, GLSTN has conducted research to try identify and understand school based interventions that correlate with better outcomes for students – higher academic achievement, better individual well being. And, simply said there are four of them: having specific bullying prevention, protections that specifically name LGBT students as among the protected classes having – being able to identify supportive faculty and school staff, the presence of a gay-straight alliance and the presence of curricular materials that accurately and appropriately portray LGBT history and events as part of the fabric of life that’s in the classroom. And there is clearly something very powerful about that representation that actually leads to an LGBT student feeling more connected at school, being more likely to plan to graduate and go on to college. Being ostracized and isolated is among the most damaging experiences that any student can go through. That is the core damage at the heart of the bullying victim’s experience – how must it feel then, think of this at the level of an entire sector of our society – an entire sector of so many different communities in our society, that’s being held outside of the common, legal protections, social acceptance, and simple life of the rest of our society."