Taking a Stand Against Bullying

Two days ago, actor Zachary Quinto came out as a gay man, stating his reason as follows:

when i found out that jamey rodemeyer killed himself – i felt deeply troubled.  but when i found out that jamey rodemeyer had made an it gets better video only months before taking his own life – i felt indescribable despair.  i also made an it gets better video last year – in the wake of the senseless and tragic gay teen suicides that were sweeping the nation at the time.  but in light of jamey’s death – it became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it – is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.  our society needs to recognize the unstoppable momentum toward unequivocal civil equality for every gay lesbian bisexual and transgendered citizen of this country.  gay kids need to stop killing themselves because they are made to feel worthless by cruel and relentless bullying.  parents need to teach their children principles of respect and acceptance.  we are witnessing an enormous shift of collective consciousness throughout the world.  we are at the precipice of great transformation within our culture and government.  i believe in the power of intention to change the landscape of our society – and it is my intention to live an authentic life of compassion and integrity and action.  jamey rodemeyer’s life changed mine.  and while his death only makes me wish that i had done this sooner – i am eternally grateful to him for being the catalyst for change within me.  now i can only hope to serve as the same catalyst for even one other person in this world.  that – i believe – is all that we can ask of ourselves and of each other.

Besides the fact that Quinto is a famous and talented actor, this drew my attention because yet another gay teen has committed suicide.

Wait, wasn’t this bullying epidemic supposed to be solved by now? Last year, I wrote an essay about bullying (especially based on sexual orientation) in schools and how policies need to be updated to be more inclusive. Haven’t schools made the changes to help these struggling teens?

Yes and no.

If you’ve been paying attention to CNN recently, you may have known about Anderson Cooper’s fight to end bullying, along with several mentions of the Anoka-Hennepin School district in Minnesota. For those of you who don’t know, the school district implemented a “neutrality policy” in 2009 that prevents teachers from taking a position on homosexuality in the classrooms. After seven suicides within the past two years—four of which were “gay, perceived to be gay, or questioning their sexuality”— many parents and teachers have been concerned that all of this is due to the policy. Of course, school officials deny this claim, saying that they have a separate bullying policy that deals with sexual orientation. However, none of this seems reassuring.

On the other hand, the Minneapolis Public School district has made the issue be of greater importance:

In January, the school board unanimously passed a unique resolution instructing administrators to track bullying incidents related to the harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The measure also requires all staff to be trained on LGBT issues. It injects LGBT topics into the curriculum, which includes adding an LGBT component to sex ed. They will eventually add an elective high school course on LGBT history.

In addition, federal agencies like the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Department of Education have created resources for students. The HRSA has a website dedicated to teaching about the risks of bullying while the Department of Education holds workshops for educators to learn their responsibilities. Other websites continually gain awareness, such as The Trevor Project (suicide prevention hotline) and the It Gets Better Project (a reminder to teens that they have better futures to look forward to).

Despite the integration of LGBT curriculum in Minneapolis schools and better bullying resources, a lot more can be done in school districts like Anoka-Hennepin to ensure that students don’t have to drop out of school or commit suicide because of harassment. In light of last week being National Coming Out Day, we need to remember there are always adolescents facing the pressure of hiding/revealing their sexuality. Teenagers should be enjoying their middle and high school years, not live in fear of being called “faggot” every day.

As feminists, we must embrace our LGBT friends and help fight any bullying due to sexual orientation. The feminist movement is one that works for gender equality, along with freedom of sexuality. As Zachary Quinto so eloquently put it:

we are witnessing an enormous shift of collective consciousness throughout the world.  we are at the precipice of great transformation within our culture and government.  i believe in the power of intention to change the landscape of our society – and it is my intention to live an authentic life of compassion and integrity and action.

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