To the Editor:
Joleen Hanlon’s Commentary “A Tragic Lesson in Anti-Gay Bullying” (May 27, 2009) highlights the terrible fallout from hurtful words and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, youths. In it, she emphasizes how sexual orientation often is the reason for bullying in schools.
I agree that schools are very much in need of age-appropriate, research-based programs that can help children understand and respect diversity, and can encourage an inclusive environment. Exclusion is not acceptable, and hate language and homophobic attitudes must be eliminated.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that many students who are targets of anti-gay bullying have not identified themselves as LGBT, as was the case in the essay’s example of Carl Walker-Hoover, a Massachusetts 6th grader who committed suicide. Hate language is used not just against LGBT students, but against many victims of bullying, and it is too limiting to define and react to the suicides of Carl and other students targeted for being perceived as gay as anti-gay harassment. It is not enough to rely only on organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network for education and protection. Bullying, both anti-gay and for other reasons, affects millions of children nationwide.
Adults need to look out for LGBT youths, but also for any students who may be especially susceptible to bullying. They may include children with disabilities, those who are overweight or new to the community, or children who don’t “fit in.” Be alert to warning signs, engage in ongoing conversations with children about bullying, teach all students the skills and strategies necessary for bullying prevention, intervene when bullying happens, and make sure children know that adults can help.
All young people deserve to be treated with respect, and none deserves to be bullied.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as Bullying: Protect Gays, and Others Who Are Vulnerable