BoardBuzz was intrigued by this article that came to us by way of ABCNews.com. It seems that increased cultural awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues is allowing teens to acknowledge their sexuality and gender identity earlier and earlier. As a result, some children are coming out when they are in middle school. And unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever been to middle school can attest, it remains a zenith of bullying, and these young tormentors are as intolerant as ever.
In fact, according to the article, Harris Polling found in a study conducted in 2005 that students are 30% more likely to be teased about their sexual orientation in middle school than in high school. But “teasing” is the least of some students’ worries. Fourteen-year-old Sean, a female-to-male transsexual since age 11, was “shoved into lockers, beaten up and made fun of.” He ended up dropping out of middle school and being home-schooled by his mother. Josh Rivero, who tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club at his middle school, received enough threats that he enrolled in a virtual high school. Leah Matz came out as a lesbian when she was 12, and endured being “tripped, pushed and spit on,” and received a painted message on her locker that read, “Dykes Suck.”
A universal grievance among these students is that their schools did not do enough to prevent or remedy the harassment they endured. Experts note that many middle schools do not have policies to address sexual orientation bullying. Although Sean’s mother told school officials that her daughter was returning to her 7th grade class as a boy, those officials did not pass the message on to teachers and students. And Josh’s mom reported that while some teachers helped her son when he was being bullied, others “looked up at him and said, What do you want me to do?’”
“I never dealt with this as a middle school principal in the 1990s,” said John Norig, director of program development for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which is beginning to address the issue. But even progressive schools with strong anti-gay harassment policies said coming out is particularly hard in middle school.
Some school districts take a hard line against harassment based on sexual orientation and are getting results. In Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, each year, the school informs students that sexual harassment for any reason is prohibited, and each incident is punished. Students who are coming out are sent to a counselor in order to give them a sense of acceptance and support at school. Middle school principal Alison Boggs describes the districts success regarding reducing harassment, “Like other forms of sexual harassment, once they are educated, kids do pretty well and will stop if we make it clear. In this age group, they are still forming their identity, and they may be sure, but not all that sure. But they are feeling safer to express themselves.”
If you are looking for some resources to how your school district can handle situations like these, click here.