Last month a 14-year-old boy from outside Buffalo, N.Y., killed himself after being bullied because he was perceived to be gay. The parents of Jamey Rodemeyer said in news reports that he was teased and bullied in middle school and online, including anonymous posts on his Formspring account. One post said, “JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” Another read, “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!” A recent national survey by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) found that nearly 9 out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students had been verbally harassed at school in the past year, while 4 in 10 said they had been physically harassed. A few L.A. Youth teen writers got together to talk about the environments at their schools for gay and lesbian students and what they think can be done to make schools safer and more accepting places.
Nicholas Robinson, 16, Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts: I feel my school is accepting of gays and lesbians. I think that’s because it’s an art school and they brought in a whole bunch of people from around the city who want to be there.
Editor Amanda Riddle: Do you feel students at your school can be more open with their sexuality because it’s a more accepting place?
Nicholas: They can. They’re not afraid that being gay will affect how other people treat them. All schools are trying to push tolerance, but I believe it’s really the students who are pushing the tolerance to a good level.
Julia: My parents taught my sister and me that you can’t judge people just because of what they look like or what they wear or how they act, so we learned about tolerance in our family. When I went to school it bothered me that other students weren’t brought up the same way.
I know a few kids who are gay. Some of them are popular and they’re treated well, I think because they’re popular. But other kids are made fun of because of their sexual orientation. There is a kid at my school who is openly gay. I came in one day to my classroom and I saw that on the computer was a picture of him and around it someone had drawn inappropriate genitalia on his face. I was so shocked that somebody would do that. What if he saw this picture?
I think they [the school] didn’t know about these incidents because people hadn’t reported them. But I feel like this year they’re really cracking down on bullying. They’ve given us a lot of papers with new school rules. There’s a whole section on bullying.
Amanda: How did students respond to the photo incident?
Julia: They were like, “Don’t worry, it’s funny.” I said, “No seriously, that’s really offensive. You need to take that down,” so they took it down.
Rosie Baek, 15, South HS (Torrance): A guy I knew was openly gay and he was a senior last year. There was this one kid who blew up at Jared. [He said,] “You’re going to go to hell” and he started screaming at him. Band members got protective of Jared. Jared said, “What’s wrong with you?” to that guy. No one ever did anything. I don’t think anyone reported it. We don’t have any school policies on gay bullying [that I know of].
Amanda: What do you think your schools should do to make school a more tolerant place?
Rosie: I don’t know because the school does have a Gay-Straight Alliance club but all the [other] students think of it as a big joke. One day the members of the club wore duct tape over their mouths as a statement and everyone rolled their eyes and laughed it off.
Nicholas: I think that the school should initiate the [discussion that] bullying is wrong and don’t pick on other people because of their sexual orientation. We have an assembly every year that says don’t bully people for sexual orientation, race or anything else. I think it stays in their head, that thought of what it does to people, and that helps them not do it. They talk about the punishment. Usually it’s suspension.
Rosie: It’s really different [at my school]. In middle school it was a lot harsher. Some guy posted on the school website, “blah blah blah is gay” even though he wasn’t, just to make fun of him. Immediately the principal called him up to his office and they had a talk and I think he was suspended for a week.
Julia: We have a Tolerance Club at our school. The guy who runs it printed out fliers that have rainbow stripes on them and they say these bad things about bullying and have statistics on them. A lot of the teachers put them up on their doors so you can see them when you walk out, which I think is really good.
Amanda: Police are investigating whether they’re going to charge students for bullying in the death of Jamey Rodemeyer. It seems more common that police are saying bullying could be a criminal act.
Nicholas: If it happens once, bring them in and talk to them, [then] let them go. If it happens more than once, you need to punish them, starting with suspension. If it keeps happening you need to consider any punishments beyond that. There’s a point where you need to involve law enforcement if it’s happening too often.
Amanda: Do you feel your teachers could be doing more?
Nicholas: At the beginning of the year a lot of teachers have guidelines for the classroom. A lot of them talk about harassment and how they’ll have no tolerance of that in their classroom and if they see it, they will report it. I think that helps.
Julia: I had a class once where this kid was being bullied. [They said,] “Oh my god. You’re so gay, you’re so annoying. Why don’t you shut up.” The teacher was like “OK you need to stop” but it happened again and she just brushed it away. So I feel like teachers should do more to enforce that.
Rosie: I think teachers should receive better training.