Post submitted by Hyacinth Alvaran, HRC Diversity Program Manager
Last Friday, the OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates held its Annual National Convention in Washington, D.C. At the convention, the OCA hosted a discussion among 70 Asian American middle and high school students and a panel of safe school advocates.
The panel discussion was called “No More Standing on the Sidelines,” and focused on giving the students the knowledge and tools that they need to be advocates for safer schools in their communities and increase their awareness of different ways to respond to bullying in their own schools.
Panelists included Kisha Webster, the Director of Education and Community Engagement for Welcoming Schools for the Human Rights Campaign; Hyacinth Alvaran, Diversity Program Manager for the Human Rights Campaign; Tiffani Sykhammountry, intern for the D.C. office of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN); and Amrita Singh, Legal & Legislative Affairs Associate for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The discussion was moderated by Monica Thammarath, Senior Liaison for the National Education Association.
The panel discussion touched on themes of bullying based on religion, race, sexual orientation, gender identity & expression, and other forms of bullying. Singh educated the students about the Sikh community, and how Sikh boys are especially bullied because of their long hair and turban. Long hair is an important article of faith for the Sikh community, and being bullied can put pressure on Sikh youth to choose between their peers and their religion.
Sykhammountry spoke about her experience being bullied as gay in high school, and how the experience empowered her to seek help from a teacher and join her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. It also sparked her advocacy work to create safer schools, and work for GLSEN as an intern after she graduated from high school.
Alvaran shared her story of bullying as learned behavior. She was gender-stereotyped as a child in the Philippines: receiving messages from society that it was not appropriate for girls to be tomboyish, and therefore, she learned to display gender-stereotyping behavior towards other children. She also spoke about her experiences of having been a bystander to bullying behavior in her grade-school years in New York, and how as she grew into her high school years in Oregon, she became more aware of other people’s suffering and of her own power to choose, so she started to choose to be an ally to and befriend students who were made fun of.
This power to choose was demonstrated through an activity, facilitated by Webster, called “Making Decisions: Ally or Bystander.” Through this exercise, Webster announced a particular situation of bullying or name-calling, and the students chose to walk to a part of the room with signs that reflected their answer: to either walk away and ignore the situation, talk privately to the person who committed the bullying or name-calling behavior, seek help from an adult, intervene to stop or mediate the situation, or do something else. She then invited students to share their reasons for their chosen action, and facilitated a deeper dialogue around these reasons. When asked to raise their hands if they appreciated the activity, most did, because it encouraged them to think about their own behaviors in response to situations of commonplace bullying or name-calling, and how they can choose to make different decisions if they want to and if doing so is safe for them.
With programs and resources geared towards creating safer schools and communities, the Human Rights Campaign is a strong advocate for youth. In particular, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program gives educators and other school community members tools and resources to learn how to embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s report, Growing Up LGBT in America, paints a vivid picture of the issues that LGBT youth face, including non-accepting families, bullying, and fear of being out or open with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HRC also advocates for better protections for LGBT students by backing the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Respectively, these pieces of federal legislation would prohibit schools from discriminating against LGBT students and promote school safety by providing funding for schools that adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion.
For more on HRC's groundbreaking report on LGBT youth, visit www.hrc.org/youth.