Stop a bully. It’s not as hard as you might think.
I have been retired from teaching now for four years and I’m just starting to get bored. I decided to look for some volunteer activities that fit my outlook and lifestyle. After spending 37 year surrounded by teens in the classroom, they will always be close to my heart and their hardships close to breaking my heart. As a member of the LGBT community, I have a particular soft spot for LGBT teens. Even though I live in a supposedly more progressive and accepting country, homophobia is still a serious issue, especially in schools where kids have learned to perfect cruelty. I joined a local anti-bullying organization, Stop-a-Bully as a visiting speaker. What I do is travel from school to school giving presentations and talking to kids about bullying in general and specifically LGBT bullying.
My last trip took me to a large rural high school in a town I shall leave nameless. Let’s just say the area has a fairly large Baptist population which could, to some degree, translate to a fairly large homophobic population. My presentation takes about a half hour, the last ten or so minutes focussing on LGBT kids, and then a question period at the end.
I was introduced to the students by the principal and started my presentation.
“How often do we see or read a news story about love and compassion?” I asked.
“Not very often. We see hate and violence on the news and in video games on a daily basis though.” I responded, answering my own question.
“I have to wonder if, that for that reason, we are becoming numb to it. Witnessing hate and violence should not be a daily event. Witnessing love and compassion should be. Today, I’m going to make a special request, actually a few requests.
Maybe some of the kids here don’t have the required designer jeans. Maybe they’re shy or quiet. Maybe they’re new to the school. Whatever their situation, if you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because they don’t fit the high school norm, please step up. Say hello to them. Smile at them in the hallway. You don’t know what they may be dealing with in their lives and even the smallest act of kindness could make a big difference.”
So number 1. Be kind to others.
“Above all, if you see someone being bullied, DO NOT be a silent bystander. Stand up for them. If you can’t stand up for them physically, then at the very least, run for help. And, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Unrelenting bullying too often leads to hopelessness and hopelessness too often leads to suicide. School is such a small part of anyone’s life. Every bullied kid should get to see that life does get better. Unfortunately, too often many don’t.”
Number 2. Don’t be a bystander.
“In the first month of school this year, we have seen nineteen suicides, that I know of, across this country. That is simply too many. I know you might be thinking, ‘This is a big country, nineteen isn’t very many.’ One is too many as far as I’m concerned. These kids’ are gone. We can’t get them back and their families are suffering unbelievable pain, wondering what went wrong, wondering what they did wrong. These are kids 11 to 18 years old…yes…11…to 18. They are kids who felt so hopeless, so lost, and so alone that they saw other no way out.”
Number 3. You could be that way out.
“Sometimes bullying is not the issue. Sometimes depression is the issue. It may be due to bullying. It may not. It may be due to a feeling of isolation. It may not. But, it is not uncommon, especially living in the city, or attending a large school with hundreds of students. To be surrounded by people and feel lonely and isolated is a horrible feeling. Even when surrounded by family and friends. Why? Because being surrounded by people who pay little or no attention to a person can be worse than actually being alone.”
Number 4. Pay attention to people.
This thought comes from a friend of a 14 year old who committed suicide. “Christian was loved by many. But, all too often, we never show love to people because we think they already know. That’s where a big part of the problem is. If everybody who’s telling Christian they love him now, would’ve done it before Saturday, we might still have him here.” Don’t be afraid to show your love for people, because you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. Knowing you love them or care for them could be just the support they need.”
Number 5. Show support.
“Also, I’m waiting for the day when the law sees bullying for what it really is...criminally punishable, often hate-motivated, denigration, defamation, assault, aggravated assault, attempted murder, and, in the case of their victim committing suicide, manslaughter. If as an adult, I beat another guy senseless, and when he falls to the ground, kick him, I would be arrested, charged with aggravated assault, or attempted murder. I would be appear in court, be tried, and go to jail.
Number 6. Demand charges be laid if it’s at all severe.
If a fifteen-year-old does the same thing to a fourteen-year-old, it’s bullying. Nothing happens above, maybe, a two to ten day holiday from school. Bullies need to be arrested and charged for the crimes they are committing. Bullies are often causing irreparable damage to other kids…physical, emotional, and mental. Damage that these kids will often carry with them for the rest of their lives…self-esteem issues or depression are common and can lead to poor life choices and even suicide later in life. These bullies are damaging and destroying lives. They need to pay for their actions.”
Number 7. Always report being bullied.
“Unfortunately, very often, the most hateful and serious bullying is against the lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, or LGBT community.”
About three seconds after first using the term LGBT, a girl stood up and shouted, “God hates fags and faggots.”
Since that is not the first time I’ve heard or seen that, and I was ready for it.
“I can see how God would dislike fags. When I was in the UK last year, my cousin smoked 25 fags a day. It was rather disgusting. As for Faggots, well I love them. When I was over there, he and I went to Cardiff in Wales and bought them freshly made from a local market, they were the best meat balls I have ever tasted. I’ll pop your comment into the discussion topics folder, thanks ever so much for your input. Is that something you’d like me to include as a discussion topic after the presentation today?” I asked her.
“They’re all going to Hell so God doesn’t care what we do to them,” she shouted like she hadn’t heard a word I’d said.
My first thought was, ‘This bitch should be living in Texas,’ but I avoided saying it out loud. I did tell her that we would discuss her opinions at the end and she would be removed from the gym if there was one more ignorant outburst from her. The principal seconded my warning and I was allowed to go on.
I took a few seconds before moving on with, “Thousands of LGBT kids are made to feel worthless and alone by those who hate. They are harassed, belittled, humiliated, beaten, or worse, and often feel totally desperate. We have to stand up for these kids. If we don’t, they are just going do to their bodies what has already been done to their spirits. It’s like we are loading the gun, supplying the rope, or building the bridge with which these kids choose to end their hopelessness. The nineteen suicides I mentioned earlier were all LGBT or assumed to be LGBT teens. How many more teens will have to die before we get it right? It’s time to realize that we are all equal and who we love, or how we gender identify is unimportant. These kids were 11 to18 with their whole lives ahead of them. Now they’re gone. Taken from us by hate. These deaths were not suicide; they were murder. Is it your plan to add a name to this list? I hope not.”
Number 8. Don’t be a hater.
“Fifteen year old Larry King was sitting quietly in his computer lab on February 12, 2008. Just after 8:00 am, fourteen year old Brandon McInerney withdrew a 22 calibre handgun from his backpack and shot Larry twice in the head. Brandon then threw the gun on the floor and walked out of the room. Police found him five blocks from the school. Obviously this was a case of outright murder. He is charged with premeditated murder and a hate crime. He is looking at a minimum sentence of 53 years. His reason…Larry was openly gay and apparently teased Brandon, so it made him uncomfortable to be around Larry.”
Number 9. Think of where your actions may put you.
Then I opened the presentation for discussion and immediately the young lady started in with Leviticus 18-22.
I responded with, “So then, you are quoting Old Testament Laws, and if Leviticus 18-22 holds up, then all Old Testament Laws hold up. Therefore you obviously obey all the Old Testament Laws, all 76 of them, right?” I didn’t get an immediate response.
“Okay, if that’s the case then you believe women dressing in clothing that 'pertains to a man' is forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:5), although I see you’re wearing jeans. Eating shellfish and pork are forbidden (Leviticus 11:7, 10). Shaving is forbidden (Leviticus 19:27). Wearing clothes of more than one fabric is forbidden (Leviticus 19:19). Stretch jeans contain more than one fabric don’t they? Adultery is strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:22), which would include marriage after divorce. Rape victims are to be put to death along with the rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Non-virgin brides are to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Disobedient children are to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If you work on Sunday you are to be put to death (Exodus 31-15 and 35-2). Unwed mothers are to be burned to death (Genesis 38-24). Oh yeah, and you can buy slaves from foreign nations around you, and you can buy the children of foreigners staying in your country (Leviticus 26:44-45). So that leads me to this question. Now if, as this young lady states, we MUST obey one, then we must obey ALL Old Testament Laws, put your hand up if your family owns slaves, or if you would be in this room listening to me right now.” Not surprisingly, no one put up their hand, including the young lady. As the students looked around and saw no hands up, it didn’t take long for the room to be filled with uproarious laughter.
Number 10. This is a new one…Old Testament Laws…all or none.
When the laughter died down, our young lady had nothing more to say, so I made it clear that in too many churches the religious bigots, not the true believers, find it convenient to pick and choose which Old Testament laws they like and ignore any that they don’t like. I suggested she take the list I mentioned and ask her pastor about them and see what he said. If he says they don’t apply because times have changed, then Leviticus 18:22 doesn’t apply either. If you are a believer, then maybe you should read the Bible for yourself and see what Jesus had to say about LGBT people. Then make a rational decision for yourself. Don’t blindly believe what some hateful pastor, you don’t even know, tells you to believe.
Number 11. Don’t blindly believe anything you’re told.
I then added, “Hate is seldom, if ever based on logic and most certainly not based on Christ’s teachings. You only have to look at the Westborough Baptist church to see that. The LGBT community is not responsible for 9/11, soldiers dying, floods, tornadoes, climate change, or anything else going on globally. The US is not going to be destroyed by God if we accept LGBT people as equals with equal rights. LGBT people are just like you and me in every way, except for with whom they fall in love.”
Number 12. Remember we are all people and are all equal.
A boy then raised his hand. When I acknowledged him, he responded with, “I know gays and trans kids get a lot of flack from idiots expressing their ‘religious freedom’ and it disgusts me.” Then glancing at the boy beside him, he added, “But my best friend gets bullied about being some kind of terrorist because he’s from Qatar.
Thank you, my purpose here is not religion, it’s bullying, and it’s not just bullying LGBT schoolmates, but bullying any schoolmate for any lame reason. Being from Qatar and appearing Middle Eastern shouldn’t in any way shape or form open him up for bullying. Should I assume every white guy in this room belongs to the KKK because you’re American and white? No, of course not. It would be stupid. Well it’s just as stupid to assume someone from the Middle East is automatically a terrorist. Give your head a shake. Of course being from Qatar is all some people need as an excuse to bully him.
Number 13. How about another new one? …Don’t jump to stupid baseless conclusions.”
Then I decided to give the bullies something to think about. Were they as I was about to describe them, or worse yet, would the other kids begin to see them as I was about to describe them. Would that make them think twice about bullying?
“Okay, I have just a few minutes left, so moving on, with bullying, we can’t leave out the possibility of learned bigotry, whether religion based or not, but keep in mind that studies have shown that often the ones who bully LGBT kids are in fact LGBT themselves, and they’re using bullying to keep the closet door closed. Studies have also shown that it’s often the emotionally weak and insecure who bully. They are not bullying just for the sake of bullying. Often they need help too, because the only way they can feel good about themselves is to degrade others. So when you see a bully at work, realize he or she is very often insecure and very often can’t get a grip on their own life situation so they lash out. They have an ‘I can hurt you, so I’m better than you mindset.’ For a few minutes they can actually feel good about themselves.”
Number 14. Learn to love yourself.
“You may not have a choice about being a victim initially, but you certainly have a choice about being a bystander. Don’t whatever you do be a bystander. Also, please let your friends and other classmates know you care and they can talk to you about anything, anytime, without judgement. When and if they do, be respectful of what they have to say and be supportive. Take what they have to say seriously. If necessary, help them talk to someone you or they trust or help them call a kid’s crisis line, like The Trevor Lifeline. And, be prepared to tell a person you trust if you think someone is considering suicide.”
Number 15. Be the difference... not the bystander. You just may save a life.
All young people should have a harassment-free time at school, to be able to think back later without having to remember school as one long torture. That is assuming they live through it. You are young and you have every right to live a full and happy life. It would be good if everyone here could feel a responsibility to help others enjoy those same rights.”
So let’s work together and Stop a Bully.
Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.
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