Saturday, October 16, 2010

We Can Make It Better

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?


  1. Yep, sure am, Desmond! Thanks for this eloquent statement.

  2. I'm with you--and I'm happy to say that I've seen my example at work; my sons have called a neighbor child (a friend of theirs) repeatedly on language like "so gay" and made it clear that they won't put up with it. He's stopped using it. I've heard them also hold that line in online games; refusing to tolerate derogatory and abusive language. Those efforts don't fix everything all at once. But they make a difference.

    It is getting better. That doesn't mean it's all better. It doesn't mean it's even good. But it is getting better.

  3. I'm with you more than you'll ever know. This is beautiful and makes me cry.

    I was bullied and harassed all throughout my school career. They told my parents & me they could only do so much... and my parents left it at that.

    I was also blamed for the bullying and harassment. I was told by teachers, administrators, and therapists that they were just doing it "to get a rise out of me" and if I just "ignored" my bullies, they would stop. They basically told me it was my fault that they bullied me. (As a teen, I once countered that you wouldn't tell a woman being beat by her husband "just ignore it and he'll stop" so why tell me that? I don't remember their reply.) It's only as an adult that I have the language to say that they were blaming the victim and I have the confidence & esteem to know that's horribly wrong.

    The truth is... there WAS more they could do. They said putting the bullies in detention wasn't working... they could have expelled them. (Or, even better, they could have helped the bullies with counseling to figure out why they were bullying and help them deal with their emotions in better ways.) My parents could have sued the school. We could have charged the bullies with harassment. But everyone either brushed it off as "kids are cruel" or said their hands were tied.

    Because of what I went through, I had PTSD, the same PTSD that people who go through a war have. I also have chronic depression from it, a depression that has been untreatable by medication or therapy. My earning potential and even my own ability to support myself has been EXTREMELY affected.

    It's 10 years later. I've been told many a time to "just let go" and "it's the past". I wish it was that simple. I wish that getting rid of the depression that cripples my life was as easy as "letting it go".

    My message to teens is such: if they're bulling you, DO something about it. If your parents don't do anything about it, go to your administration. If they don't, go to the police. Don't stop going to various adults until someone takes it seriously. We disempower our teens to control them, so you may not be used to standing up against adults or fighting back, but in this case, this is your future you're fighting for. Being bullied and harassed can have serious ramifications that can last the rest of your life. It's NOT just "childish cruelty", it's harassment. The ages of the people committing it are irrelevant. YOU HAVE THE *RIGHT* TO LIVE A LIFE FREE OF HARASSMENT, REGARDLESS OF YOUR AGE. There ARE harassment laws that protect you.

    And, as per "it gets better", I'm not going to lie to you or paint a rosy picture of the future like they did to me when I was a teen. Life will still be hard. What happened to you in school can (and very well may) stay with you & affect your entire life for years, even decades. But there IS some positive news. For most people, the bullying STOPS after high school. Most people in college or university don't bully others. If you're being bullied in college, at this point you're a legal adult and can make them stop (or even go to jail). And, if you're feeling alone where you are, if you feel like there's no one like you where you live, you can move somewhere else, somewhere where there's lots of people like you. Not only will the bullying stop, you'll have the opportunity to make friends. Real friends. People who like you for who you are and are like you.

    So while I refuse to state that once HS is over, it magically gets all better, I can tell you that it will get better than it was in HS. Stick around and see. And, in the meantime, don't put up with the crap you're getting... you have the right to live a life free of bullying and harassment.