The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Banning Bullying?

I’ve written before about my experiences growing up gay and dealing with being bullied. More than 20 years later, in our own school district, we’re fighting a right wing attempt to derail sex-education curriculum that includes a unit on “Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality.” Other school districts are opposed to suicide prevention for gay youth, on grounds that it offends their “values.”

So, it’s encouraging to hear about a New Jersey court ruling that schools must protect LGBT students against harassment.

In an opinion that gives New Jersey students greater protection than their peers nationwide, the court ruled unanimously that New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination is intended to protect children from “student-on-student harassment.” It also found those children could sue the school district if it fails to stop repeated discriminatory conduct.

“A contrary conclusion would be incongruous with the LAD’s prohibition of discrimination in other settings, including the workplace,” Chief Justice James Zazzali wrote in the opinion. “We do not suggest, however, that isolated schoolyard insults or classroom taunts are actionable.”

The state’s highest court found that a school district may be found liable if it knew, or should have known, about a “hostile educational environment” created by student-on-student harassment and failed to take reasonable action to end it, according to the ruling.

“A school cannot be expected to shelter students from all instances of peer harassment,” Zazzali wrote. “Nevertheless, reasonable measures are required to protect our youth, a duty that schools are more than capable of performing,” including implementing “effective preventive and remedial measures to curb severe or pervasive discriminatory mistreatment”

And because we live in an online world these days, harassment can happen online too. One in four teens say they’ve been harassed via cell phones and social networking sites. So, it’s no surprise that some states are looking for ways to deal with online bullying as well, or that it touches gay students too.

Ryan Patrick Halligan was bullied for months online. Classmates sent the 13-year-old Essex Junction, Vt., boy instant messages calling him gay. He was threatened, taunted and insulted incessantly by so-called cyberbullies.

In 2003, Ryan killed himself.

“He just went into a deep spiral in eighth grade. He couldn’t shake this rumor,” said Ryan’s father, John Halligan, who became a key proponent of a state law that forced Vermont schools to put anti-bullying rules in place. He’s now pushing for a broader law to punish cyberbullying — often done at home after school — and wants every other state to enact laws expressly prohibiting it.

States from Oregon to Rhode Island are considering crackdowns to curb or outlaw the behavior in which kids taunt or insult peers on social Web sites like MySpace or via instant messages. Still, there is some disagreement over how effective crackdowns will be and how to do it.

… The Internet allows students to insult others in relative anonymity, and experts who study cyberbullying say it can be more damaging to victims than traditional bullying like fist fights and classroom taunts.

Legislators and educators say there’s a need for guidelines outlining how to punish cyberbullying. They say the behavior has gone unchecked for years, with few laws or policies on the books explaining how to treat it.

I can only imagine the potential for bullying online. When I was growing up, I only had to deal with verbal taunts and with stuff getting written on the bathroom wall. Except for the matter of going into the locker room (something I refused to do because of the abuse I faced in there, and failed P.E. as a result) that was the extent of my worries. When I left school, the hallway name calling and the “Terrance is a faggit” scrawled on the bathroom stall only followed me home in my head. Otherwise, they stayed in the building. Now, those taunts can live online, for all to see, and live forever thanks to Google’s cache and the Wayback Machine.

But, as much as I support the idea, I’m inclined to wonder just how a school or state will go about monitoring online bullying, let alone penalizing online bullies. I suppose they can do something about it if they discover that it was done during school hours, using school resources, etc., but if students are taking the harassment online via their own computers in their own homes, I’m at a loss as to what can be done about it.

However, I think you can count on some people protesting very loudly that nothing should be done about it. I’m talking about the people who are opposed to anti-bullying programs they believe infringe of their religious freedoms, and people who are opposed to anti-bullying programs because gay youth who are bullied should be “encouraged to change if they can.”

And of course there’s people like the folks at NARTH who think that bullying might provide LGBT youth incentive to change. (Since NARTH nuked its blog, I’ll quote them here and direct readers to a copy of the article.)

A coalition of organisations monitoring groups claiming to convert gay people back to heterosexuality, have criticised the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) after a member advocated teasing transgender children to “re-establish that necessary boundary.”

NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member Joseph Berger said on a blog in reaction to a San Francisco Chronicle article on gender identity issues, “I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

“On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.

“Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”

My prediction? Watch for the right to raise a ruckus in New Jersey and other states, either against the anti-bullying programs or in support of their right to “bully,” harass, ridicule or “witness” to any and everyone, on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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