We Must Do Better

Post submited by Vinnie Pompei, director of HRC Foundation's Youth Well-Being Project & Conference Chair

Like many, I was devastated to read the tragic news over the weekend that a 12-year-old boy died by suicide just miles from where I grew up in Northern California’s Sacramento County. The only male cheerleader in his school, he had previously reported bullying.

To be clear, the large majority of people who experience bullying do not become suicidal. But research does indicate that persistent bullying can lead to or worsen fears of isolation, rejection, exclusion and despair. I know those feelings too well.

I remember being in 5th grade, when my peers made fun of the way I threw a baseball. In front of my teacher, one by one, my classmates called out “sissy,” “faggot,” “queer,” “you throw like a girl” and other hateful phrases, which I would hear repeatedly throughout my high school years.

I can still remember how the blood rushed to my face and my teacher’s dumbfounded expression. Her response -- or lack thereof -- was to clap her hands and ask students to get back to the game. Her inability to create a teachable moment resulted in several years of relentless bullying, and even physical violence due to my perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. That was almost 20 years ago, but according to HRC’s 2012 youth survey, LGBT youth are still twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to be harassed or physically assaulted at school. This is unacceptable.

It is beyond time for us to be asking ourselves some difficult questions: as parents, friends and communities how can we shape more responsible behavior of young people and stop them from bullying their peers? At the school level, how can we ensure the well-being of youth -- and move beyond simply having an inclusive policy to ensuring an inclusive climate? When are we going to recognize the vital role of teaching our youth to be kind and to value those who are different? Aren’t those lessons just as valuable of an investment in our future as a standardized test score?

As long as children continue to face the cruelty of bullying – we as adults are failing them. Teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, social workers and other youth serving professionals can all take advantage of teachable moments to intervene and let children know that bullying is unacceptable. We can – and we must – all do better. Here are a few ways to start:

  1. If you’re a youth and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project, which provides a 24-hour crisis hotline for youth, at 1-866-488-7386.
  2. If you’re a teacher or parent and want more information on how to create safe and welcoming schools for all children and families, visit http://www.welcomingschools.org.
  3. If you are a youth-serving professional, please consider attending HRC Foundation’s 2nd annual Time to THRIVE conference -- promoting safety, inclusion and well-being for LGBTQ youth.

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