Schools Should Be A Safe Haven
When kids start school, parents become concerned sometimes. They've had their sons or daughters with them almost all the time, barring any day care or other activities, and school marks the beginning of a period where kids start learning more about their own independence. Parents can't protect their kids 24/7, and that's one of the toughest things to come to terms with as a parent - there will be illnesses, both physical and societal, that parents simply can't insulate their children from all the time.
Bullying is one of those societal illnesses that continues to rear its head, and while there are kids of all sorts that are bullied for one reason or another - religion, social or economic status - it appears that kids who identify as being somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum still seem to get the brunt of the punishment from bullies.
According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, there are still schools in the US that are restricted from even discussing LGBTQ issues. Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah all of policies which prevent teachers from openly discussing any issues that might be LGBTQ related. This makes it incredibly difficult for kids who identify to even have their safety concerns met, let alone discussed.
"I’ve been shoved into lockers, and sometimes people will just push up on me to check if I have boobs,” said Kevin I., a 17-year-old transgender boy in Utah, one of the 500 survey participants who were interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report. Kevin said school administrators effectively shut down his concerns that he was being abused physically and verbally at school and blamed him for being “so open about it.”
There have also been cases where teachers themselves have been the bully, or at least seem to have participated in the harassment. Lynette G., a parent with a young daughter whose father is gay, detailed that her daughter had been harassed extensively about her father's sexual orientation, and said that when her daughter was eight, she'd witnessed a teacher laughing when the other students were saying horrifying things about her father's sexual orientation.
In Canada's First National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools from 2009, 20 percent of LGBTQ students and 10 percent of non-LGBTQ students reported that they were harassed due to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and 64 percent of LGBTQ students and 61 percent of students with LGBTQ parents reported feeling unsafe at school.
All of these are stunning, painful statistics to read about.
All of these prove that there is still so much more work to be done to help our kids, parents and school staff to feel safer.
We Need More Safe Spaces
We need to encourage our kids, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, to speak up for those who might feel voiceless. It's not easy to stand up for yourself or for others when you don't feel safe. It becomes a whole lot easier to feel safe when you're aligned with other likeminded individuals.
That means we need to continue to talk to kids and other adults about continued support for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum or who have family members who are LGBTQ. Kids who are taught hatred at home are more likely to demonstrate it in other areas of their lives, such as at school, so it's really important to keep talking about acceptance and safe disagreement with others. For instance, while we may not always understand why someone might be attracted to someone of the same sex, or why someone might feel as though they are trapped in the wrong body (as seems to be the case when talking about transgendered individuals), we can still respect who these individuals are as people.
It's important to keep those lines of communication and of education open in order to help these individuals feel safe once more. There should be no question about safety in schools, school washrooms, or for that matter, anywhere in society. There are too many kids and adults who feel unsafe for who they are and how they identify, and they should not be made to feel as though they are running the risk of being assaulted or harassed simply by being. As kids grow up, they're trying to figure out how to appropriately demonstrate their gender identity or sexuality, and adults, as the role models for these children, need to be mindful of what messages they are showing to kids through their words and deeds.
How else can we help these kids be safe?