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Sample Newsletter Editorials

Editorial:…And, Justice for All

September 9, 2010, William Lucas, age 15, killed himself by hanging. Tyler Clementi, age 18, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Asher Brown, 13, shot himself. Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself. Jaheem Herrera was an outgoing 11 year old fifth grader who was found by his mother and sister hanging from a belt in his closet. All these boys were victims of bullies who targeted them for being gay or being perceived to be gay.

I am writing this editorial on National Coming Out Day (NCOD). This is a day dedicated to raising awareness and discussion of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) issues. This day is devoted to making the lives of so many people; children, adolescents and adults more open and free from shame and guilt. NCOD is observed by LGBTQ communities and their supporters also known as “Allies.” An ally is defined as an individual who works to end oppression personally and professionally through support and advocacy of an oppressed population. My belief is that we all should be Allies; straight, gay and everyone in-between.

This year’s NCOD is quite timely as it comes on the heels of the very tragic and recent cases of four young boys who took their lives within 19 days of each other after being victims of bullies for their real or perceived sexuality and identity.

Some sobering facts:

Almost a quarter of students who have been harassed or attacked at school because someone perceived them to be gay or lesbian report having attempted suicide in the past year – more than three times the rate their peers report (23.2% vs. 7.1%).*

Students who have been harassed or attacked at school because of their gender are more than twice as likely as non-harassed peers to report having attempted suicide in the past year (12.4% vs. 5.9%).* revised 4/2010 Safe School Coalition report.

Approximately 15 transgender people are murdered each year. Most are young girls or women of color. Based upon FBI figures, transgender individuals living in America today have a one in 1,000 chance of being murdered in an anti-transgender hate-based crime. In contrast, the average person has about a one in 18,000 chance of being murdered.

As elementary teachers and educators you already know that bullying styles once associated with middle school and older students like physical assaults, battery, teasing, exclusion, and isolation are now easily seen being perpetrated and experienced by children as early as kindergarten and sometimes even preschool. Despite multiple programs dedicated to anti-bulling, relational bullying is more prevalent and starting earlier than ever. The causes for the increase range from our lack to implement workable solutions in the traditional arena of bullies, the playground and the school bus, and now extends to the new technological battlefield of bullying; cell phones, internet and social media sites exasperated by the growing overall culture of divisiveness and meanness in our country.

Unfortunately, some of our students appear to be getting meaner and specific groups of students are being targeted and made victims more than others. Ninety percent of LGBT youth experience harassment in school.

As educators, what can we specifically do to intervene in anti-gay harassment and bullying?

We have to make ourselves aware of the newer technologies that support the bullies. This is especially true for us older educators who may not even know what online social networking even is. And, when we see acts of bullying based on sexual or gender orientations at our schools, how will we rededicate ourselves to the notion of justice and fairness for all our students? Punishment doesn’t work. There has to be an understanding of why bullies bully. There has to be both education and empathy. How can we help bullies become empathetic and reintegrate them back into our social and school communities while concurrently addressing their responsibility to repair of the harm they have caused?

The following are a sampling of ideas and statements suggested by The Safe School Coalition:

First, Stop the Behavior:

“Cut it out!”

“Keep your hands to yourself!”

“That’s way out of line!”

“Whoa, that is NOT okay!”

“That is unacceptable!”

Then educate:

“That was a stereotype. Stereotypes are a kind of lie and they hurt people’s feelings.”

“That was a putdown. I don’t believe it belongs at (name of school).”

“That’s bullying. It’s against school rules and it is never the right thing to do.”

“Do you know what that word means? It’s a put down for being gay. That’s like putting down people of a different race from yours or a different religion.”

“You may not have meant to hurt anyone, but that was insulting and it implies that he was Gay in a really disrespectful way.”

Educating is a crucial step. The Safe School Coalition wisely acknowledges that it is not enough to just stop the offending behavior. As they point out, students may interpret a simple, “Stop it now!” to mean that it is OK to bully Johnny, but not during reading time. And, while stopping to educate may take a moment in the short run, it will save time and energy, not to mention some child’s heart, in the long run. Sometimes, that child may not be just the one who was targeted. It might just as easily be the bystander or the bully. You may be preventing a much more serious assault or suicide down the road.

What do you do if the offender retaliates against you for speaking up, by demanding, “Why do you care? Are you gay?!”

You have a lot of choices and you can state the following:

“Do you think only gay people have the courage to stand up against bullying?”

“I hope I would speak up about meanness no matter what my orientation was or what I am!”

“That is not the issue. The issue here is that you are bullying Chris. That is NOT okay in my class or any time at this school!”

Use your professional judgment on how you ultimately will respond. But, think about it ahead of time and practice how you will handle this kind of situation so that your fear or reticence won’t get in the way of protecting children.

The following is the message to give our LGBTQ students: You deserve to be able to be yourself without having to face verbal or physical violence…and be able to get an education without having to lie about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or about having gay friends or family members or about believing in civil rights for gay people. No matter how alone you may sometimes feel you deserve to receive help and support.

Upon reflection, on NCOD, I recommit my responsibility to all students, both victims and bullies, but especially towards our most oppressed students. I promise to be an “Ally” and step-up when I see an injustice committed. Responding to bullying based on sexual and gender orientation right now, right here, in elementary school settings can make a profound difference in the survival of our LGBTQ students but also have a significant impact on the lives of all our students when it comes to social justice and fairness. In the wise words of my all time favorite philosopher-king, Bruce Springsteen, “And, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.” Now that, my friends is, justice for all.

Spencer Gorin

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