I’ve lost count of the stories of GLBTQ youth who, subject to so much bullying and abuse, chose to end their pain by ending their very lives. I’ve seen folks posting and cross-posting videos and blogs telling other victims of bullying to keep living, to hang on, because eventually it will get better. I’ve heard others rightly complain about holding the bullies to account for their actions, or the adults who failed to act.
Here is my story…
I was a skinny and awkward kid – the perfect target for bullies. And, sure enough, they came after me. When I would come home from school angry and in pain, my parents did not just comfort me and tell me to hang in there. My mother marched into the principal’s office and told him she would not put up with it. And when he replied that he could only do so much, she then said: “I’ll help you.” She signed up to be a recess monitor, showing up for school each day, intervening whenever she saw any kid being hit or harassed.
My father joined in. A leader with our town’s Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, he made it clear that bullying would not be tolerated. He reminded the boys in his charge that the principles of the Scout Oath and Scout Law called on them not only to refrain from bullying themselves, but to speak out and step in whenever they saw it. And when a man who is six feet five and two hundred fifty pounds tells you something like that, you listen!
My parents didn’t just tell us, in word and deed, that violence and harassment were unacceptable. They reminded us that we each have the power to do something about it – maybe not the whole world all at once, but one kid at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time. It is what my parents did for me, and for other kids like me, which would empower me to speak up and step in for GLBTQ rights as a hetero ally. It is the example of my parents which led me to Unitarian Universalism, a faith tradition which at its core summons the power in each of us not just to believe that things will get better, but to do what we can to make the world a better place.
Now it’s time to pay it forward…
If you’re a young person reading this, and you know someone in your school or town who is being bullied, speak up and step in. That could be you, or your sister or brother. It can be scary, even painful, but think of the fear and pain that kid is going through. Tell your parents, your teachers, your principal, your Scouting leaders, someone at your religious community – anyone who will listen. Tell other kids about what’s going on, and do what you can to support those who are being bullied, and stand up against those who bully.
If you’re a parent, and you hear about a kid being bullied, speak up and step in. Even if it’s not your kid, it could be. Talk to that kid’s parents. Talk to the parents of the bullies. Talk to any parents who will listen. Tell the school board what’s going on, and remind them just how serious the consequences could be. Step in through the PTA, your community of faith, your local Scouting or youth group. Set an example, and encourage your kids to do the same.
If you’re a teacher, counselor, school administrator, youth advisor, speak up and step in. These kids – all of them – are under your care. If you allow one to bully another, then you give approval for it to get worse. Stop it before it gets worse. Let every kid who bullies another kid know that you will not put up with it. Let every kid who tells you about bullying that you’re proud of them. And let every kid who is bullied know that you’re there for them.
It can get better. It will get better. It must get better. And it can happen a lot quicker if each of us, working together, resolve to do what we can to make it better.
Are you with me?