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October 5th, 2010

Fighting Back Hard Against Bullying

“You’ve got to fight back. You’ve got to fight back hard.”
— Abby, the young vampire of the new film Let Me In

In the melancholy new vampire thriller Let Me In, the most unnerving scenes for me had nothing to do with fangs or bloodletting. They were the scenes of bullies terrorizing Owen, a lonely 12-year-old boy at the center of the story (below). His traumatic assault by school tyrants gives the film a topical sadness that’s hard to shake.

LetMeInWorse still, when the bullies in the film are visited by gruesome violence themselves, my feelings shifted. The teen inside me, the one who had been kicked and humiliated in grade school, nodded in approval at the carnage and whispered, “good.” My own childhood traumas are not buried very deeply.

Bullying has taken center stage in the public consciousness lately, with the number of gay teen suicides growing by the week. Six heavily reported deaths, at last count. In several cases, bullying seems to have played a role in the teens’ final misery.

According to a 2009 survey by the Gay and Lesbian Students Education Network, 90% of gay or lesbian students have been physically harassed in school, and nearly two-thirds feel unsafe being there. Gay teens also racked up more absenteeism and had lower grade point averages.

There are some encouraging responses to the recent wave of tragedy, and two projects in particular have everything to do with the internet and it’s growing influence on our lives.

David Glick is a career educator who founded GLBTQ Online High School, a cyber alma mater that opened in January of this year. David believes his online schooling can be a healthy alternative for queer kids who are having trouble functioning safely in a bricks-and-mortar school, and he rejects the notion that an online experience might impede social skills.

HS Pic“Socialization isn’t based on where or how you take classes,” David explained. “We are social creatures. GLBTQ High School wants to give students tools to socialize more successfully. Meanwhile, we help them focus on their academic achievement.”

Many of his students dropped out of school due to bullying, David said. GLBTQ Online High School recognizes this by accepting students of any age who wish to pursue a full diploma.

Some tweaking of the curriculum has been made to address the realities of gay life. “We have a more open and honest discussion of HIV and safer sex than one would find in a public school,” said David. “And one of our partners. The Pride Institute in Minneapolis, does assessments of our students to determine any drug or alcohol dependence issues.”

With the endorsement of gay figures such as Greg Louganis, who has created a school scholarship fund, the concept is gaining visibility. And compared to the various costs of putting any kid through high school, the yearly $5900 tuition sounds reasonable.

dan_savageAnother, more immediate and emotional reaction to recent teen suicides has been the creation of the It Gets Better Project by gay writer Dan Savage (right). Dan started a YouTube channel to collect messages from anyone who wants to talk to gay youth directly.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now,” says Dan on his YouTube page. “We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”

Hundreds of video messages have poured in and the channel is quickly approaching one million views.

My gay brother Dick and I contributed our story (and some embarrassing old photos) to the Project. Check this out:

Other remarkable programs have an online presence as well. Be sure to check out the efforts of the Give a Damn Campaign, and the wonderful work of The Trevor Project.

Anyone can make a difference in the lives of a young person who is struggling. If you can record a video, go for it. But there are always ways to contribute, including making sure your own kids know that bullying isn’t cool. Since this all began I’ve had conversations with nieces and nephews, and it feels good to get the issue out in the open.

As always, my friends, thanks for watching, and please be well.

Mark

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6 Responses to “Fighting Back Hard Against Bullying”

  1. Margit Says:

    October 5th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I LOVE YOU TWO, TOO!!! Awesome video. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m going to repost on FB.

  2. Brian Says:

    October 5th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Great Job, Guys. Love to both of you.
    Brian B. California

  3. Garry Allan Says:

    October 5th, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    I just don’t know, I just don’t know… this is all well and good except… Where are the teachers? Authority figures? Student leaders? Is everyone at these schools afraid of the bully?

    No, I’m sorry, but like the ACT UP soldiers that fought to get better drugs, unsettle the status quo and get the justice that they deserved, the gay kid getting beat up has got to get the upper hand… somehow. Violence begets violence works both ways and sometimes that act is the only thing that will curtail a bully. “You’ve got to fight back. You’ve got to fight back hard.”

  4. Birdie Says:

    October 9th, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Garry, my son was bullied because he was perceived to be gay. He finally fought back once and was sent to in-school suspension, where he was beaten. He came home with a swollen dark purple lip and a three-day home suspension. That’s how his school handled it.

    We didn’t know why he was doing so badly in middle school until he was in counseling in high school. The “textbook” signs of abuse were revealed to be caused by systematic bullying. His response was ultimately to turn to drugs and violence, and when he threatened to kill me and himself we managed to find him the help he needed.

    He’s not gay. It doesn’t matter. The kids who are bullied do not have the wherewithall to fight back; otherwise they wouldn’t be bullied. Bullies pick on the weak. My son had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and it made no difference. We cannot leave it up to the children to do the fighting. We who have the power to speak and make change are the ones who must take the reins.

    My son is okay now. He’s at peace and is excelling in school for the first time since fifth grade. He is in a school where being different is the reason you’re there. He is in control of his future. It is an astonishing change that all who know him speak of in awe. My miracle boy will be fine, and it is the first time I can say that. But his story is not the norm. We who can make change must be the ones to fight for those who cannot.

  5. Dr. James Says:

    October 15th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I’m so glad you added your voices to the “It Gets Better” project. Your blog gives a personal face to the public policy issues you address. Thanks for keeping so many of us “in the loop.”

  6. Sue Says:

    November 4th, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I love you too!

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