This is the last in a series of posts written by our summer LGBT Project legal interns. The other posts are "LGBT Human Rights Gone Global", “The Roots of Homophobia“, and “Calling It ‘Marriage’ Isn’t the End of the Story."
The first step is admitting we have a problem. And we do: students that stand by and allow bullying to occur, as well as teachers that either don’t know how to -- or choose not to -- respond to anti-LGBT bullying. Most LGBT students say they’ve experienced bullying behavior in school, but don’t report it. We have to change the widespread attitude that “bullying is just part of growing up”.
As an ACLU/SC intern, I get to help figure out how schools can improve. A recent study by the National Education Association (NEA), Findings from the National Education Associations’ Nationwide Study of Bullying (.pdf), shows that teachers and school staff are not receiving the training necessary to implement anti-bullying policies effectively. Although a majority of teachers and staff report the existence of an anti-bullying policy at their school, about half of all teachers and staff reported received no training on that policy. Both groups also reported feeling most uncomfortable intervening in bullying when the bullying is based on sexual orientation or gender issues. How can we expect teachers and staff to respond appropriately to incidences of bullying unless we teach them how to do it?
Providing this essential training signals to students, parents, and citizens that schools take bullying seriously. The NEA study shows that campus culture really matters: when teachers and staff know that their schools take bullying seriously, and that other school employees would step in if they observed bullying, they are more likely to intervene or respond to reports of bullying. When teachers and staff set a tone on campus that bullying is not tolerated, the climate will improve for all students, especially LGBT students.
Schools cannot post an anti-bullying policy in the main office and call it quits. They have to provide adequate, comprehensive training, specifically addressing bullying related to sexual orientation. Once schools train teachers and staff on how to address bullying - including how to do so while effectively protecting students’ free speech rights - the campus climate should begin to change dramatically. With well- trained teachers and staff leading the way, we can transform hostile school environments into engaged school communities.
Kelsey Williams is a rising 2L at Loyola Law School Los Angeles and a summer legal intern at the LGBT Project of the ACLU of Southern California. This fall, she will join the staff of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review and serve as a vice-chair of Loyola’s ACLU chapter.