Beyond Vigils: Ending Bullying At All Levels

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This week, a lot of folks are in recovery mode.

Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Cody Barker, Tyler Wilson, Chris Armstrong… the list of recent names is short compared to the many that go unreported. This spate of harassment (and the many suicides that have resulted) should only be alarming to those unaware that such harassment is a quite common occurrence in the lives of young LGBTQ people.

As campuses and communities mourn and grapple to respond to the horror of how young people are being treated, we must also refocus on interventions. To recovery from bullying is not enough. To endure bullying (as the It Gets Better campaign can be interpreted) is not enough. We have to interrupt bullying and we have to counter-balance it with affirmation.

We’re at an impasse where many see bullying as just a “school” problem, while the biggest problem with bullying in our schools is that teachers and administrators are reluctant to intervene. It is important to raise the standard for educating about LGBTQ issues and how school employees are empowered to interrupt bullying, but it is also important to recognize that anti-queer bullying permeates our entire culture.

Students aren’t just bullying against the queer community because they can (and do) get away with it. It’s because they’ve been conditioned to by our entire society.

President Obama is a model for bullying. He could very easily exercise his power as Commander in Chief to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell discharges by Executive Order. Under his watch, well over 500 individuals have been discharged simply for their sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter how many nice things he says, because his actions (or lack thereof) still reinforce the idea that people can be treated as less than for being gay. How can we expect our young people to understand that anti-gay bullying is wrong when our own President isn’t even a good model?

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This gem, along with many less subtle remarks, reinforces bullying across many prominent religious identities. The Mormon Church just reminded us that they’re still anti-gay, as Catholics and evangelical Christians do weekly if not daily. Christianity is by no means alone in demonizing the queer community, but certainly represent the most prominent voice in the US. To refer to a person’s identity as sin is to encourage shame upon that person. Beliefs be damned; sexual orientation is not a choice, and to treat it as something that is wrong or needs fixed severely hurts a person. And yet, every time a religious group has something to say about the gays, they get “equal time” on network news.

And despite all of this, I’ve heard very little in support of tomorrow’s National Safe Schools Day of Action. There are events in 15 cities across the country to provoke action on the stagnant Student Non-Discrimination Act (HR 4530) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (HR 226). These are bills that would show a real commitment to improving life for our LGBTQ youth, and yet no action is being taken on them. This is a true tragedy, a severe ineptness with deadly consequences. Why aren’t more people energized to push these bills with the same fervor as ENDA or repeals of DADT and DOMA?

If we continue to be unenergized about actually teaching young people about their identities, interrupting the epidemic of bullying in our schools, or actually modeling true inclusive appreciation for the LGBTQ community, then we have learned nothing and these young people have suffered in vain. It is not just enough to undo the bullying; it must be countered and reversed with positive affirmation.

Be upset, but don’t just be sad. Don’t waste your tears mourning if you aren’t ready to step up to the plate and help correct the systemic problems of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.

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  • M.Njaga says:

    Lets address the real Problem: why we are missing the mark on bullying.

    By Mucheru Njaga

    Author of Patch: Assumption is a crime.

    I was a bully.

    I didn’t plan on being one. In fact, before then, I was a victim of bullying. As a freshman in a all boys boarding school, I along with all of the junior students served at the behest of the “Prefects”, a small group of senior students. They ruled our school with a heavy hand and had more powers than the teachers. They bullied us physically and mentally , once we had to jump on our knees, other times they banned us from wearing pants and limited us to shorts to serve as a constant reminder to who we are. Verbal humiliation was an everyday occurrence as well.

    Four years later, I became a “prefect”, a bully and part of a system I once despised. We would raid the freshman area in the middle of the night and make them follow whatever we ordered them to do at 2am or face severe punishment. We called them names in front of the dinning halls and used them as practice dummies during rugby games.

    All of this was acceptable – condoned by the school faculty at the time because the “Prefects” were seen as the guardians and mentors of the young students. Today the danger of bullying and its impact on our society is finally shaking many people awake. Many groups and organizations have made significant steps in our fight against bullying but there seems to be a growing number of bullying related deaths in America and the world.(STATISTIC)

    So where’s the disconnect? Why are we letting this happen?
    Where does bullying start?

    In our efforts to address this growing problem, we tend to focus more on the end result of bullying rather than why it starts. The kids we recognize as bullies and vilify as the aggressors could easily be our very own children or next door neighbor. In other words, for every victim, there is a perpetrator, and I set out to find out what turns a lovable kid or teen into a bully. For the last couple of years, I compiled a case studies I believe could be a catalyst in our bid to stop bullying.
    Throughout my entire experience, I noticed the common motivation behind bullying is fear. As a victim, I was afraid to fight for what I knew was right and as a bully, I feared loosing the tight grip of power I held. It is this fear that keeps things status-quo and continues the cycle.

    The same basic principle plays out in schools today. Bullying is almost always a direct or indirect by product of fear. “Fear” of being labeled, “fear” of being uncool, fear of being seen as weak. Most of not all instances of bullying are rooted on fear. Sadly, it is this fear that prevents kids from living a free life, where they are free to be different, to be gay, to love a certain kind of music or activity, to be themselves.

    So how does true change take place?

    Define bullying with your kids and talk it out: For teens public perception has a substantial influence on their daily decisions. We need to clearly explain to kids what bullying is, how to spot bullying tendencies within themselves and how to avoid acting them out.

    Take away the cool factor:

    Show kids that bullying stems from fear, and we could effectively render bullying as an “uncool” deed. The largely successful anti-smoking, “Truth” campaign and the anti-drug, “Rise above the influence” campaign ads help significantly reduce those habits among young people. A well executed marketing campaign endorsed by a popular teen celebrity that showcases bullying as an unacceptable act can help garner attention for the cause.

    Be aware of tendencies towards bullying developing in kids:

    Educators, parents and children alike must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying before the problem gets out of hand. If there is a widespread understanding that fear is the underlying emotion perpetrator of the bullying cycle, those who observe a child who exhibits signs of fear and insecurity can spot a problem early on and raise concerns.

    Encourage self reflection:

    Talk with children who are bullying others and encourage them to consider their behaviors. Often, another problem is bubbling beneath the surface and it is necessary to determine the rot of the behavior in order to fix it. Since this self-examination can prevent those problems form manifesting into something more harmful, the earlier it takes place, the better.

    Promote open communication about bullying problems:

    We have to change the way kids view talking to adults and authority figures about bullying issues. Kids are often worried about “snitching” and the negative perception of telling adults when they are having these types of problems. We must convince them that it is brave courageous and admirable to put an end to the situation instead of remaining silent.

    Mucheru Njaga is the author of “Patch: Assumption is a crime”, a young adult novel based in his personal experience with teen bullying that encourages debate and discussion among teachers, parents and students.

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