It’s back-to-school time in America, but for millions of kids, there’s more at stake than just studying hard and getting good grades. According to various studies, between a third and two thirds of all students across the country are victims of bullying. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, (GLSEN) says that for LGBT kids, that number jumps to 90 percent.
For the coming school year, GLSEN sent a 24-page booklet, titled "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth," to 16,000 U.S. public school superintendents. And earlier this month, the US House introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act in order to combat the devastating toll bullying can take on students.
But the Colorado-based, anti-gay group, Focus on the Family now claims the booklet and the Safe Schools Act are a Trojan horse of sorts, trying to sneak what they call a “gay agenda” into schools under the guise of preventing bullying. Thankfully, many in the media are doing their homework.
The Denver Post interviewed GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard, who said the booklet was written by a coalition of 18 medical, mental-health and education organizations, and that GLSEN has been working with Christian Educators Association International and the First Amendment Center to write common-ground guidelines on dealing with sexual orientation in schools. She told the Post "The word 'f****t' is not part of any religious creed."
CNN’s Anderson Cooper also took an in-depth look at the issue on Wednesday, in a segment featuring Byard, author and bullying expert Rosalind Wiseman, and Candi Cushman from Focus on the Family. Byard told Cooper that science has shown that if you don’t specifically mention sexual orientation and gender identity in bullying prevention efforts, they don’t do anything to protect students who are, or are perceived to be, LGBT. Wiseman agreed, saying the issue is “about everybody in the school feeling that they have the right to speak out. And if we don't name this behavior, then we are going to lose it, and it's going to go back to bullying in the playground is the problem, and we're going to lose all of the improvements that we have made.”
ABC News spoke with a parent, whose son committed suicide in 1998 after he was forced to endure constant bullying. Brenda High told the network: "I am a Christian. I am conservative. Some would call me right-wing." But, she said, "The problem is our schools are not teaching kids to become responsible adults. When you allow kids to call people names or bash them because they think they might be gay and make assumptions and judge people, that's when kids get hurt.
Earlier this year, an Iowa State University study on cyber-bullying found that the best way to prevent homophobic and transphobic behavior is to explicitly state that that type of bullying will not be tolerated. “We should find ways on our campuses to empower young people to speak up and act as allies," said study author Warren Blumenfeld. "In bullying circles, it's empowering the bystander to become the upstander to help eliminate the problem."
GLAAD applauds those in the media who continue to shine a spotlight on the devastation of bullying and the science that shows the only way to prevent the problem is to address the issue head-on.