(WIAT) — When it comes to bullying, anything that makes a student seem different from their peers can become a target. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students report being bullied–but when it comes to LGBTQ students, 74.1% say that they were called names or threatened within the past year because of their sexual orientation.
Back in April, CBS 42 attended a ‘Spotlight on Homophobic Bullying’ at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. The event included a panel of speakers–from the Family Equality Council to the Southern Poverty Law Center. However, we wanted to sit down with a 17 year-old student who was participating in the discussion.
Blake Fields has given a TED talk on the subject. You can find his speech on Youtube: Bullying- It’s not what it used to be.
Blake explained that when he was in middle school, he was bullied because several of his classmates assumed that he was gay. His father, Doug Fields, also participated in the panel and shared stories from that time in his son’s life.
“They would say mean comments that would really just get to me after awhile,” Blake remembered. He attributes some of the bullyings to the fact that he dressed differently than some of his classmates and wore his hair longer.
“What people were doing to him was intolerable,” said Doug, “and that’s not the norm.”
Blake said that the majority of the bullying he experienced was verbal–something that’s also common for LGBTQ students.
“I didn’t really have any cyberbullying,” Blake explained. He said he faced the most bullying during his middle school years, and he’s now a junior in high school. “It was more face-to-face. Lots of times it would be under their breath because they wanted me to hear it, but didn’t want to say it directly to me.”
However, sometimes the bullying did get physical for Blake. He remembers being pushed down in the hallway several times. He said there was also a video made about him that was passed around between his classmates. He described it as “vulgar”.
“At a very young age, Blake was being bullied,” Doug explained, “really from kindergarten. From the time he started school–just because he is a very creative, unique, and different kid.”
The fact that the bullying started so young is something that the panel–and several of the audience members wanted to also address. Ginger and April Aaron-Brush are a same-sex couple with a daughter in the 4th grade.
“It’s very important for us,” Ginger said, “because we want her to have a safe environment. She may not be a gay child, but she is the child of gay parents. She kind of gets lumped into the same bracket with everyone and it’s very hard for her growing up with two moms. People have a lot of questions, and the more–and the quicker–that we can bring the awareness that all families are different and not everybody is alike, the faster that it becomes acceptable for her in their classroom.”
“Welcoming Schools” is a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. They have provided schools and parents with material that can better prepare them for questions from those younger students. Both Ginger and April hope to encourage more elementary schools to move towards earlier intervention.
“We’re noticing more and more frequently that bullying content within the schools includes race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and even family dynamic” said April, “but it just doesn’t include any of the language [for LGBTQ students or families]. It doesn’t show any of the children that hey, there are families with two moms or these families have two dads or there’s a transgender child…and it just completely leaves them off the face of the earth.”
The group agreed–there’s no real introduction to any of that until middle or high school. By then, sometimes it’s too late.
“It’s more of–maybe–making the adults more aware about it,” explained Blake, “and letting them know better ways to handle it.”
For more data and information on homophobic bullying in Alabama, visit: https://www.glsen.org/article/state-state-research
And for more information on how you can talk to your child about bullying bias in schools, visit http://welcomingschools.org