Last week I was giving a workshop on preventing bullying with a group of P.E. teachers from all over California. I started talking about the case of Seth Walsh, the 13 year old who died by suicide after years of bullying at his schools in rural Tehachapi, CA. A teacher who worked in that region said, “yeah, but he was really different and flamboyant. He really brought it on himself.”
I am always amazed when I hear this victim blaming. There are so many cases of principals or teachers or parents telling kids to not dress this way, or talk that way, or do this thing that they love, and they won’t get bullied so much. The message is this: you wouldn’t have so many problems if you were less…YOU.” Kids learn that there is something wrong with them when this happens. Instead of blaming the victim, we need to look at the environment, not the child, as the problem.
I just returned from an exciting three day conference called “Think outside the boxes: Expanding our understanding of gender” planned by Gender Spectrum in Berkeley, CA. The event had a day for professionals (medical, legal, mental health, & education) who work with youth and families who in any way experience gender outside of our society’s conventional norms (various terms used include: transgender, gender nonconforming, gender diverse, gender idendependent, gender fluid, genderqueer, gender fabulous, and gender creative). After the professionals' conference, the weekend that followed was designed for families and youth to come together, learn together, play together, and generate ideas and energy to go back home and advocate for more gender inclusive spaces in their communities and our world. Over 600 people participated in these two events.
I am always moved to tears when working with families of transgender and gender creative youth. I am impressed by the strength, wisdom and courage of these youth and their supportive family members. I am also infuriated hearing the painful stories of daily injustice, exclusion and violence. This time I got choked up I was presenting about all the harms that are associated with children who are targets for bullying and harassment. My audience was different than the usual teachers and principals; it was parents, grandparents, and other family members who were trying to find ways to help their transgender and gender creative kids be safe at school. As I was rattling off the research: lower academic performance, increased absenteeism, depression, anxiety, loneliness, abuse of drugs and alcohol and suicidal ideation…I looked up and paused. I remembered my audience and I just wanted to hug them all. I said, “however, YOU can provide such a buffer for your child by being supportive and accepting. You can offer them a safe haven and unconditional love and that goes a long way to protect them from all of these harms.”
There are some great new resources out there, as well as some state laws in California that can offer useful strategies for parents and educators working to teach about all forms of diversity and address the most common types of bullying and harassment (body size, gender expression, and sexual orientation) in schools. I wanted to share a few of them here and the next few posts will highlight various resources in greater detail.
Model Policy documents and legal guidance:
California legislation (comes into effect July 2012):