There's more than one way to handle a bully. Watch one teacher deal with it beautifully.

Where were the teachers like this when I was in school? Don't get me wrong, I had a childhood of amazing teachers, but none was ready to take a stand against bullying like this.

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Janet Miller: For the vast majority of sixth grade I was frequently harassed for wearing less than feminine clothing, and my classmates called me names like she-man and he-she. Distraught, I informed at least four teachers about this name-calling, and nothing was done to help me. The only teacher that took even the slightest initiative simply moved my seat to a different table.

I still heard the slurs being giggled in the back of the room. My self-esteem lowered considerably and I fell into a state of depression. The common response I was given after attempting to get help from a teacher was, "They're just giving you a hard time because you're different. Don't take it to heart."

Zoe Hu: We're in the Hoover GSA, and we've seen some issues around the school that we're having big problems with. The biggest issue, obviously, that we're seeing is that kids are using slurs and foul words like, "That's so gay, fag, dyke, no homo," etc., and we perceive that these slurs are being addressed far less frequently than other foul words and hurtful words pertaining to race or discommon profanities. It's kudos that the staff is uncomfortable with the subject of sexuality. This should not interfere with the enforcement of district policy.

Julia Retzloff: I feel like a lot of kids feel unsafe about even saying anything to anyone about them being gay or lesbian. Our society is so restricted by these laws against marriages that we're just also confused about what we're supposed to be doing.

Janet Miller: I'd gone to a professional development where they'd disseminated statistics about our district, and part of what came out of that was that transgendered youth are pretty much the most … student here. They are the most likely student to attempt suicide in the district. I was completely blown away, so I felt like I have to show this to my staff. So, I did. I got up on a table and shouted at the staff, "It's our jobs, every single person's job in this room to enforce safety and provide a safe environment for all students, not just straight ones. So, if any time you don't address it, you're failing at your job. You're not doing your job."

Thomas Graver: I think many of us were affected by her presentation, and it made me think that I'd never had a functional GSA or an organization like that at any middle school that I'd worked at. When she proposed that we do so, I was very supportive of it, but I was also a little bit anxious about it because middle school is a time of great difficulty for kids with a transition into adolescence and so on.

Julia Retzloff: I'm in the GSA here. We started it because we thought that hate in our school was getting really bad, and we wanted to fight against it. I think people in our age group should be able to express who they are. I think that's one of the most difficult things in middle school is that we have such a hard time finding ourselves. I'm driven apparently by my sexuality and I feel like I need to fight for it because I really hate it that people that are gay can't marry.

Natalie Eberhard: So, the Gay-Straight Alliance is a really good place where kids get together; whether they're straight, whether they're gay, whether they're questioning or whether they just want somewhere to talk, and they can come together with the guidance of a teacher to talk about difference and talk about acceptance.

Antwan Thomas: Mrs. Miller said that we're helping people, and making people feel like they are not outcast.

Natalie Eberhard: What does it mean to accept? What does acceptance truly mean, and what does that look like? The GSA really helps the students have a place to ask those questions and talk about it, and really navigate through what society says in media, maybe even what their parents are saying, and how they feel about the people that they actually know. So, today we're in remembrance of Transgender Day of Remembrance, and specifically to remember those who have lost their lives.

Julia Retzloff: Everybody is really serious about trying to get the awareness out, and I feel like even though a lot of kids do feel restricted, at school especially since we have a GSA, it's a lot easier to express ourselves, and I feel a lot of kids need that push to be who they are.

Janet Miller: When I have GSA meetings, I'm seeing different kids coming in; kids I wouldn't have expected to come by, who are opening their minds to this. It's definitely changing the culture here. In one year you can change a kid's outlook. So, I think it's extremely powerful. I hear a lot from other teachers, and even before I started the GSA, "Middle schoolers aren't ready for that yet," and they absolutely are. They want to be activists. They don't want to just passively sit there. They want to do things and make change.

Thomas Graver: The fact that our staff and my school are standing up for kids just means everything to me, and makes me so honored to work in this school.

Julia Eberhard: The Gay-Straight Alliance makes it possible for me to be out and to be safe being out, and personally, that's huge. It's really important.

Kelsey Johe: Being in a club like this, it makes me feel better knowing that there're other people like me.

Zoe Hu: I feel a lot better since joining my GSA. I feel like even though I am a kid, there are things I can do to make the world a better place.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This video is by Unity Lab. If you are interested in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance in your community, some useful links are here, here, and here to get that ball rolling. Many thanks to Anne Friedman for bringing GSAs to my attention!

Jul 23, 2014

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