Readers have been contacting me to ask: what more can we do beyond the It Gets Better project? The project, in the few weeks since its inception, has brought hope to millions of kids, shined a spotlight on bullying in schools, and launched a national grassroots movement with over 100,000 supporters, including President Obama. It is hugely important to let LGBT teenagers know that if they can make it past the terrible years of middle school and high school, life does get better. But isn’t it also time that we actually change the experience of going to school, so that kids don’t have to be disrespected, harassed, and bullied? Isn’t it time to send the message that such torment needn’t be a normal part of growing up?
I believe that it’s time for our schools to tackle the root causes of bullying. I know that this is hard work, not only because I am in my fourth year of trying to make progress at my children’s school, but because I hear from parents all across the country about the struggle to combat bullying related to gender identity and perceived sexual orientation.
So I’m trying again. And I hope you will try too, whether for the first time or as a renewed effort. This week I wrote a letter to the head of our school, the principals of the lower school and the middle school, and the school counselor, asking them to do more. I encourage you to write your own letter. If you need some ideas to get started, here are three things that you can say to your school administrators:
1. Acknowledge any anti-bullying or inclusiveness work that your school has done in the past. People hear you better when you acknowledge their efforts. And if they’ve done nothing, it will help if you are grateful that they are taking the time to listen to you right now.
2. Tell them that, in the wake of a rash of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying, you need them to do more to protect your child. Share the ways that your child has been bullied or harassed, and let them know that yours is not the only child who suffers. Remind them that not a small number of kids from your school will grow up to be gay (some of these kids will figure this out in middle school, or even earlier), that there are LGBT families in your school, and that there are a fair number of gender-nonconforming kids in your school who (regardless of sexuality) experience challenges because of their differences. Tell them that the only way to get ahead of the bullying—to prevent it, rather than punishing it after it occurs—is to educate the faculty, staff, and the entire student body, in age-appropriate ways, in all grades. In this way, your school can work to prevent the kind of tragedies that have occurred across the country in recent weeks.
3. Give them some background. The GLSEN 2009 School Climate Report supplies helpful (though disturbing) information: at the time of the study, nearly 90% of LGBT students experienced verbal harassment at school, 40% experienced physical harassment, and 19% reported physical assault. Your school officials need to know this—and they also need to know that they can make a difference.
Give your school administrators some specific ideas for how they can develop their own anti-bullying curriculum. Here are some good ones to choose from:
– Welcoming Schools, a program of the Human Rights Campaign, provides K-5 schools with resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotypes, and ending bullying and name-calling.
– Teaching Tolerance supports schools (using teaching kits, tips for students, and professional development resources) so that they can create inclusive and equitable K-12 learning environments .
– Organizations like Our Family Coalition and Gender Spectrum can come to your elementary, middle, or high school to train faculty, staff, students, and parents about family diversity, gender roles, stereotyping, and anti-bullying in age-appropriate ways.
– The GLSEN Safe Space Kit is intended to help educators create a safe space for LGBT youth.
– The Trevor Project’s Trevor Survival Kit is designed to facilitate classroom discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation, and suicide prevention.
– Discuss bringing adults together by launching a Gay Straight Parent Teacher Alliance. We can’t be effective at ending bullying until we all have a stake in each other’s wellbeing—and inviting the straight families to join in the LGBT work of the community will let us grownups do what we are asking our children to do: to work together and respect each other’s differences.
And most of all, thank them. Thank them for all they have done, and for considering your requests. Acknowledge that it’s hard work to make change, but that you are fully committed to it and you know other parents will be too. Tell them that none of us can do it alone—but that together, we can save lives.