Educators and Students Discuss Ways to Curb Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools
Protecting gay, lesbian and transgender students at school was the topic of a forum that drew over 300 people to Parkland College in Champaign last night.
A panel of teachers, school administrators, counselors and students discussed the impact of anti-gay bullying, and efforts --- both successful and unsuccessful --- to deal with it.
Panelist and teacher Stacy Gross helped found the Gay-Straight Alliance student group at Champaign's Centennial High School. She says the group struggled to win official school recognition --- and that its first promotional flyers were quickly torn down by opponents.
"Ultimately though, GSA just wove itself into the fabric of our school", said Gross. "And it became a normally accepted club. Now our flyers stay up way too long and we have to really make an effort to take them down."
Gross says she was inspired to act after mentoring a student who faced anti-gay harassment at Centennial. She says she still often hears anti-gay remarks from students, and notices teachers allowing them to go unanswered.
"Kendall J", one of the students on the panel, says he's openly gay at his high school, and also the senior class president. Still, he says he and his boyfriend were physically attacked by other students when they attended prom together. Other students came to their defense. To this day, Kendall says "I still endure ridiculous judgments and hateful glances by those who don't approve of my 'chosen lifestyle'. And I still hear how 'that's gay' and that comment is 'no homo' or how that guy in the tight shirt is a faggot. All these are reasons to make school safer for everyone". (None of the students on the panel gave their full names or identified their schools).
Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch opened the discussion by calling on the audience of educators, students and parents to check up on what their schools do to keep students safe, whatever their sexual identity.
"Make a point to check whether your anti-bullying policies include protection for youth on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity", said Koch. Make a point to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the policies, and are trained on how to enforce them".
Last night's forum was sponsored by the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, part of a statewide Safe Schools Alliance which has held similar forums in Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.