I attended your workshop on gender and sexual orientation recently, and I have two questions. What if a student wants to ‘come out’ to you? And, what if the gay kids are approaching the straight kids?
Lisa Clark, MS, LSW
Lisa, this is a very sensitive topic and the answer may vary depending on which county you live in.
Each school district establishes its own policy to address GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & questioning) students and relative issues. For example, Miami-Dade County Public Schools requests that counselors and teachers discourage self disclosure (coming out).
Though it is an honor to realize that a child trusts you enough to share such personal information, the confidant does not know enough about the home environment. Hopefully, it is an accepting, loving one; however, there is reason for concern. According to several national studies, more than 50 percent of youth are thrown out of their homes by parents/guardians after coming out. More than 60 percent of homeless youth identify as GLBTQ. Many who stay are rejected in other ways, or they are physically, emotionally, or mentally abused.
What if the gay kids are sexually approaching the straight kids? There are a number of reasons this may be happening. Children are not always nice to peers. A child or group may use being gay as an excuse to target another student whether that child is gay or not.
Perception is key.
A child may be perceived to be gay and may be bullied or harassed just for this reason. Unfortunately, that perception and ill treatment, whether true or false, follows that child for years and becomes a form of torment even if that child changes schools or the parents decide to move to another community.
The response remains the same, whether the bullying/harassing is done to or by GLBTQ students. There should be clear, school-wide guidelines in the student conduct code, and each teacher should include rules that specifically refer to bullying and name-calling. When a staff person then sees or hears of these infringements of the rules, it should be addressed on the spot, naming the misbehavior and then the guidelines followed in a timely manner.
Robert Loupo, founder and director of Safe Schools South Florida, suggests that all schools create a comprehensive anti-bully program that addresses intervention techniques as well as prevention strategies.
An adult team could help facilitate specific ground rules for safe classrooms and phrases to use to intervene.
A diverse student team could teach other students the harmful effects of bullying and how students can move from being innocent bystanders to peace activists.
For in-depth research, check this website: www.siecus.org/pubs/fact/fact0013.html.
Priscilla Dames is founder and president of Wingspan Seminars, LLC, specializing in strengthening relationships through conflict resolution and crisis management. Her website is www.wingspanseminars.com.