Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gabriel's Story

My name is Gabriel, and at the age of three I was diagnosed with Autism. I was a special education student, and while I was in middle school I had a paraprofessional who aided me with simple tasks and helped me around class. I had built a strong friendship with my para for over three years, until one morning when I was in the eighth grade. I asked my para about her opinion on same sex civil unions. My para is a born again Christian and she told me that she was so disgusted when the state legalized same sex civil unions that she wanted to move. She also told me that homosexuality is disgusting and that she would disown any of her children that were LGBT. My para had brainwashed me into believing that homosexuality was wrong and disgusting. Inside I felt horrible and believed that it was my fault for being bisexual. I knew at that point that it wasn't a matter of "if" our friendship would end; it was just a matter of "when.” Being a bisexual student I was put in a Catch 22, I had to decide if I was going to continue the three year friendship that I had built with her or if I was going to live my life the way I wanted to. After months of deliberation, I decided not to conform to her beliefs. As a result, the three year friendship that I had built with my para ended. To this day she will not even speak to me.

During my freshmen year, a girl would always steal my lunch. Every time she took my lunch she would force me to tell my entire lunch table (which had about 12 students) something about my sexual orientation. When I refused to tell her something she would call a person to the table and they would say something derogatory and mean to me. Even if I did tell them something, she still refused to give me my lunch back. After I asked her to give me back my lunch, she told me, "my boyfriend is black and he is going to kick your ass!" It was really scary especially at the age of 14 seeing so many people gang up on me. Even the captain of the soccer team threatened to beat me up because I told her to not steal my lunch.

Once, a football player pretended to be my boyfriend. However, he had a girlfriend and because my learning disability makes it difficult for me to tell if he was being truthful or not, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He humiliated me by throwing it in my face that he already had a girlfriend. I was humiliated because of my sexual orientation and my learning disability. I thought I was worth nothing. People at the table laughed at me as if my existence was a joke. Things only got worse when I reported what happened to the Vice Principal. People thought that I was a coward and not man enough to tolerate being humiliated. Students would jeer at me and make fun of me because I asked for help. But when I thought my life was on the line, I had no choice. For months, my self-esteem was shot and I had little hope that I would make it. I had to have an escort walk me from class to class because I was afraid of being attacked.

As a special education student, I felt violated and angry because people have acted like it was my fault that I was bisexual. Losing my friend (the para who I depended on) was very hurtful and at the age of 14, I was still naive. For weeks I was depressed and angry, I never thought that my sexual orientation could do that much harm to me. For years I decided to lock that skeleton in my closet.

However, on Thanksgiving morning I had a flashback to what happened to me three years ago. At that moment, I finally realized that my para and the people I sat with were wrong! I was so young and naïve, I allowed them to manipulate me!

It was then that I realized God doesn't hate homosexuals. If he did, he would not have created me the way that I am. I am who I am, and people need to accept it. Throughout high school people have bullied, harassed, and even evicted me from my own lunch table because of my sexual orientation. My loss three years ago, and my realization that it was not my fault, is empowering me to fight for equality. The fact that I lost my best friend, my paraprofessional, was no longer a loss, but rather a virtue. Without losing friends and being bullied I would not have the courage or strength to rise to this occasion. I am recycling the frustration and anger that I had over my loss three years ago and I am turning it into motivation that will make me determined to fight for equality. "What destroys me is what strengthens me." Everyone has been discriminated, discrimination hurts, discrimination is wrong. I’m working with Equality NC in asking the North Carolina Legislature to pass anti-bullying legislation to protect people like me, and hopefully prevent this same thing from happening to anyone else.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for School Violence Prevention Act

Today Public Policy Polling released a new statewide poll showing that sixty-nine percent of North Carolinians support the School Violence Prevention Act with sexual orientation included in the bill. A majority of every demographic group, including self-identified conservatives and members of both major parties, want legislators to pass this bill into law.

"This poll confirms that only a small portion of North Carolinians opposed safe schools protections that ensure the safety of all students, including those who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," said Ian Palmquist. "For that sake of our young people, it's time to do the right thing and pass this bill."

Support for the bill crosses party lines, with 86% of Democrats, 51% of Republicans, and 62% of independent and third-party voters supporting. Strong support was seen in every region of the state and across all age groups and races.

Click here for PPP's post on the results and the polling data.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mickey's Story

My brother, Mickey, is a year younger than me and two grades behind me. I graduated from high school in 2004, but was there for half of my brother's high school career. We're pictured on the right, displaying brotherly love, at his graduation in 2006. Mickey had everything going for him - he was a budding basketball player, inquisitive, and charming. The summer before my senior year and his sophomore year, he became paralyzed from the chest down overnight. He literally went to sleep, feeling a little dizzy, and woke up the next morning unable to move his legs. This sort of thing doesn't just happen randomly - but somehow, someway, it did. Mickey spent the rest of that summer in hospitals in Charlotte and Winston-Salem trying to figure out what triggered this odd and tragic occurrence.

While doctors attempted to figure out what exactly had happened, my brother dutifully learned how to live life confined to a wheelchair. As his brother, I spent many days and nights in a state of grief for him and all that he would miss out on - especially basketball, at which he was only beginning to flourish.

It wasn't long until school started and Mickey would have to face all of his peers who knew him as a spry, quick little guy, transformed to this seemingly changed incarnation. The only thing is - Mickey hadn't changed. If anything, his changes were for the better. Through the entire process, he was brave, humble and had a sense of humor.

It didn't take long, though, to see that just because of his new physical handicap, others saw him differently. You never realize how much folks stare at physically handicapped people until your brother is one of them. You never realize how obviously people whisper and wonder about him until you're walking down the halls beside him.

Mickey would never share his story. He'd never let others know the pain he felt when those who he thought were his friends became bullies. They, like most bullies, were just kids who couldn't understand his predicament, so instead, they made fun of it. I know it's too painful for Mickey to have to recall what he experienced... Which is why I'm sharing it as someone who saw firsthand the destruction of self that bullying can cause.

When Mickey - against all odds - started moving his toes, and then his feet, and his legs, and his whole body again, our family rejoiced. We couldn't believe it, but he was actually recovering. Now, he was forced to walk with the aid of arm crutches, and eventually a walker until his muscles gained enough mass for him to be stable. If you can believe it - the bullying became worse the more elevated he got. It wasn't until he was walking without any aid that it stopped, and that he was able to see who his true friends were and carry on with his life.

What happened to Mickey physically, albeit interesting, is too long and complicated for this story - and it's beside the point. The point is that the essence of my brother never changed throughout his ordeal, but the attitudes towards him changed drastically. It made an almost unimaginable situation all the more overwhelming and unbearable for him and it was all unnecessary. It just didn't have to be that way.

We must first place protections, like the School Violence Prevention Act, in schools that prohibit bullying of any type. Then, we can only hope that when a bully is stopped for laughing at another kid in a wheelchair, or with red hair, or with a lisp, that the bully will then be forced to ask themselves, or someone else, why they were stopped. It can't take long for that child to see that the reason they were stopped from bullying another kid is because it is just plain wrong.

We can only hope that the legislators who oppose this bill will stop and ask themselves why they are against protecting all students from bullying - especially those most susceptible. And if they foolishly choose to continue their opposition of keeping schools safe for all students, well, then they too, are just plain wrong.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Neena's Story

A few days ago, we shared Kate's story about bullying that she shared at our Press Conference. Below is her mother, Neena's, story, which sheds light on how bullying doesn't just affect those directly targeted - it affects families, friends, and communities. Thanks again to Neena and Kate for speaking up about this issue!

UPDATE: Video now included!

My daughter has shared with you her experiences in our school system. We transferred Kate to a different high school in an effort to find a better environment where she could grow academically. There are improvements, but still she has unnecessarily suffered because of personal prejudices from administrators, teachers, and students.

As a parent, my heart breaks every time Kate comes home and is somewhat withdrawn and then shares a bad experience with me. I worry every day when she goes to school that in spite of her incredible spirit and her ability to work through situations that something will happen. We do not have a bullying policy that protects our children and our experiences within the school system only emphasizes that all schools within the same system are not created equally and that the prejudices, whether consciously or sub-consciously, of teachers and administrators often cause them to turn a blind eye to things that are harmful to our children and get in the way of every child getting the same opportunities for education.

As she shared, she takes on two tasks every time she enters the school doors, one of education, but the second is keeping herself safe, both physically and emotionally in an adverse environment. This is an unreasonable distraction for any young person. All children have the right to a safe and complete education. My daughter should not be an exception.

We need an anti-bullying policy in all schools that is clearly defined and not left up to interpretation by administrators and teachers. Our ability to keep our children safe shouldn’t be a question. This should be the foundation of our education system so that emphasis and efforts can be directed toward improving academically.

Understand that without this legislation that the children that come behind Kate will likely have her same experience. She continues to push forward and because of her incredible spirit she will succeed in life, but it didn’t have to be this difficult and it shouldn’t be this difficult for other children.

Our superintendent told us that we will never have an inclusive anti-bullying policy within our county unless it is state mandated. I am asking our representatives to hear Kate and me and hear our story. I am asking our community and the thousands of parents across North Carolina to support this bill. Regardless of your personal beliefs on any issue, I know that we as parents and members of this community want a safe environment within our schools for every child. Thank you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Travis' Story

When I was in 7th grade, I had lots of trouble with bullies. I was constantly being blamed for what I didn't do. Bullies had taken my history notebook and placed it on my desk weeks later. I had a new pair of jeans stolen in gym, and when I wasn't looking, someone took my tennis shoes. I had to leave the school that day in my socks. The shoes showed up the next day in a trash can. I had been pushed into a locker and pushed many times that year. My regular-ed teachers liked me and backed me up, but my three Special-Ed teachers didn't.

This caused me lots of frustration. After months of no one listening to me, I got so frustrated that I acted out and ended up being expelled from school. The principal did not help me. I felt like I was being "railroaded" out of that school. I am not a troublemaker, but their lack of help that I desperately needed was not being provided for me, causing my frustration levels to rise above unsafe limits. My mom had to fight for me several times at IEP Meetings (Individualized Education Programs). She called people from the school department who specialized in autism and had them come to convince the school that I was not a troublemaker. Because I got expelled, I missed several months of school. We had to move out of the district for better options for schools.

Overall, my 7th grade year at that school was horrible.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kate's Story

Kate Mabe gave the following speech at the Prevent School Violence NC Press Conference on March 11 to introduce the School Violence Prevention Act (House Bill #548, Senate Bill #526). We applaud Kate's brave efforts to share her story at such an open venue, and we encourage all who are in the position to do so to share their stories. Let people know why you support this bill and why ALL children deserve to feel safe in school. Below is a video of the speech, followed by the transcription.

My name is Kate Mabe and I’m a junior at Mount Tabor High School. I am here because I believe that the best way to understand things and to inform people is through your own story and life. I am here to tell you, through my story, why you should care about what bullying policies really say.

I came out as gay to my friends in 7th grade. I had an awful time dealing with it myself and I was proud that I could take that step. Eventually, more people started finding out and that was when things got bad. I had rumors spread about me, people called me names. I was a victim of bullying. I couldn’t ask the staff for help because I was almost positive they would do nothing but call my parents, tell them I was gay, and my world would fall apart. I was always terrified of my parents finding out. But, eventually I came out to by parents and they had some issues, as some parents do. So I still didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the issue with the staff because I could only see more trouble coming from that.

I started my freshmen year of high school and a lot of kids who had gone to middle school with me went as well. So, naturally, some of the bullying followed. But because I knew there were no rules protecting me, I was sure I would get no support or help from the staff if I told them what was happening. I had good reason to believe so, too. Earlier in the year, a teacher had called me out in front of the whole class asking if I was gay. I ended up becoming so uncomfortable with even going to school that I made the tough decision that I had to change schools or I knew I wouldn’t last through high school. Getting to change schools was a huge shift for me, but it was a blessing. I love going to Mount Tabor. It’s not perfect, but it’s a “live-and-let-live” place, for the most part. I still do experience some problems with students and I do hear a lot of terms like “that’s so gay” and other derogatory terms for gays and lesbians.

Sometimes it makes me feel really lonely and like no one cares about me. And I think that’s how a lot of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens feel; Because not a lot of people will stand up for me, or anyone like me in schools. I have come to realize that take on two jobs when I walk through the door of my school, I take on the job of learning, and the job of standing up for myself and who I am. It hurts knowing I have to do something most students never even think about, but every time I hear “that’s so gay” and a teacher does nothing about it, it’s a terrifying confirmation that I’m on my own, without protection, as soon as I get out of my mothers reach. I’ll never ask for “special rights” in school, I’ll never ask for “special rights” anywhere, all I’ll ever ask for is what every straight kid has in school. I want tolerance, I want to be able to learn without fear, and I want to freedom to be myself without consequence. That’s all I’ll ever ask for. Thank You.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tiffany's Story

Although my parent's are not comfortable with my sexual orientation, before they even had a concept of what “bisexual” or “queer” meant, they taught me to be true to myself. This was a mixed blessing when I decided to come out as bisexual in eighth grade, which meant that I put a rainbow flag sticker and a picture of two same-sex couples holding hands on my school planner. Some people were surprised and many were confused about the differences between being bisexual and being lesbian. The most important people in my life took it in stride, however, and after a few more lectures on the bible's teachings that I would have liked, I was generally accepted by my inner circle.

This says nothing for the reactions of acquaintances and strangers at school. In eighth grade I had to replace my planner three times because of vandalism to the cover photo. Once it was taken from my hands and torn apart in front of me, which was a very upsetting experience. My reaction was to tape pictures to all of my school binders in ninth grade and to keep a closer eye on my things. (I was also taught to never back down in the face of intimidation.) I am still bothered by how I handled more aggressive forms of harassment, like name-calling and inappropriate jokes in the hallways. At the time the most dignified reaction I could think of was to walk away without giving anyone the pleasure of getting to me, but in hindsight I wish that just once I used one of the many snappy comebacks I dreamed up.

There are other things I have realized with more distance from my high school days. The actions of my peers who have little life experience may be excused, but the faculty and staff at my high school were little more supportive. Even after numerous complaints, few teachers would tell students to stop using “gay” as an insult and as a general synonym for stupid, and none would enforce the ban. During tenth grade I was an assistant editor on the school newspaper staff and I wrote an editorial about the issue. That article remains the only thing my teacher never published, saying that she feared it would create negative backlash against me and the paper. My most disturbing memory, however, is from a sex-education class. After a week of sitting through classes, I realized same-sex relationships were not going to be addressed without prompting, so I asked the lecturer what measures same-sex couples should take to remain safe and what particular they might be prone to. After the laughter subsided (which took a while), she looked at my with a mixture of confusion and thoughtfulness and said she had no idea. And then she moved on.

Overall I think I faired pretty well during high school. I never felt physically threatened, and while I was frustrated and sometimes held back, my optimism and determination to remain true to myself kept me from feeling oppressed. I was lucky. As the token queer, one of two out students in a population of 1,500, I was often approached by people who were in the closet and terrified of coming out to their parents, classmates, and teachers. To this day I have not lied about my sexual orientation to anyone, which I am extremely proud of (though I have purposely avoided the subject in uncomfortable situations with strangers). As an involved and academically-successful student from a loving (if concerned) home, and as a female, I think I was somewhat sheltered from many of the negative aspects of coming out. At college I met gay men who had been assaulted and abused verbally on a daily basis in high school. I have friends whose parents have not spoken to them since they came out. Even the hurt in the voices of closeted classmates is a form of ongoing emotional abuse generated by a hostile environment. And the worst part is that no one it doing anything that changes how principals, teachers, and staff handles these issues. No one ever reprimanded the kids who shouted “DYKE!” at me outside their classroom. No one thought it was just as important for queer youth to know how to protect themselves from STIs. This has got to stop.

It's not a matter of what the right or wrong way to live your life is. No matter what anyone's personal beliefs are about gender roles, mental capabilities, or racial differences, it is absolutely unacceptable to disrupt a students education by harassing them because of any of these reasons, and there are appropriate legal channels to ensure that no matter your gender, race, or mental abilities, you're entitled to a proper education. Queer students who are terrorized or preoccupied with keeping their cover are denied this basic right. I hope you will think about all of the bright, funny, talented young people out there whose spirits are being crushed, who are crying out for a ray of hope in their darkness. Will you stand up for them? Will you stand up for the right of all children to have a fair chance to succeed?

Tiffany, 19, from Stoneville, North Carolina.

About This Blog

This blog is a collection of stories from students, parents, teachers, and friends all over the state of North Carolina who have experienced or felt the effects of bullying. We believe that true stories like these give a face to this serious problem in our schools.

This is part of an ongoing effort by a coalition of groups statewide who are in support of the School Violence Prevention Act, a bi-partisan bill introduced today, March 11, 2009 into the North Carolina State Legislature. This bill includes enumerated categories that protects all students from bullying and harassment. In other words, it gives teachers and administrators specific and clear descriptions of what bullying constitutes - whether that be towards someone's physical appearance, real or perceived sexual orientation, race, disabilities, or gender identity or expression. These categories do not grant special rights to the targeted children. In fact, research has shown that enumeration is effective in preventing violence against all children, and especially those most targeted for their differences. According to the Supreme Court, “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.”

According to a Public Policy poll, 72% of North Carolinians, across party lines, support this legislation.

If you have a story you'd like to share, we very much encourage you to share it with us. There are 2 ways you can do this:
  1. You can write a story and e-mail it. Name/location changes are acceptable, and with stories involving minors, necessary.
  2. You can record a video (with your webcam or video camera), upload it to YouTube, and then e-mail us the link. Or if you prefer, you can skip the uploading and e-mail us the video file and we'll upload it for you.
We look forward to hearing your stories - they are an essential part in showing our lawmakers the reality of this problem.

The groups who support this bill are listed below:

The North Carolina PTA
The NC Association of Educators (NCAE)
NC Advocates for Justice
American Assoc. of University Women NC
The Mental Health Association in NC
The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children
The NC Pediatric Society
Equality NC
The North Carolina Council of Churches
The National Association of Social Workers (NC)
The Arc of North Carolina
The NC Justice Center
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education NC
The Association of School Social Workers NC
Action for Children NC
The ACLU of NC
Prevent Child Abuse NC
North Carolina NOW
The Alliance for Disability Advocates
The NC Psychoanalytic Foundation
The NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
El Pueblo NC
The Autism Society NC
Young Democrats of NC
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence

Bullying: Are schools doing enough to stop the problem? (2005). CQ Researcher, 15(5), 104-124.
Public Policy Polling (16 July, 2008), North Carolinians support sexual orientation provision, [Press Release].