Back in June, before I came to ChicagoNow, I wrote a blog called “Living in Fear” for my local suburban news website. As I wrote it, I struggled with some of the harsh memories I have of growing up feeling different than everyone around me. If you talk with nearly every person who is part of the LGBT community, they will tell you the same thing. When one of my fellow bloggers, Carrie Goldman, asked us to write about our own experiences with bullying in an effort to draw attention to the ever growing epidemic of bullying in America and to aid in the Team Bullied- Ending the Cycle of Fear project, I had to speak on what life was like for me. And I will be perfect blunt - this was painful just to mention a few of the incidents.
Though I never voiced my inner feelings of wanting to be a girl when I was a kid, I'm sure other kids picked up on my insecurities and I was picked on continually from the time I was in kindergarten all the way through high school, not because I was transgender, but because, I guess, I was an easy mark. Kids will find the littlest thing they see as flaws and use them to verbally and sometime physically attack another kid.
Until my 8th grade year, I was always the smallest guy in my class and I was even smaller than most of the girls.
I had snow balls and ice chunks thrown at my head in second or third grade.
I had stones thrown at me in in P.E. in 5th grade.
One time I was picked up by my arms and legs and dropped into a 3-inch deep puddle of mud in 6th grade.
My 7th grade year was probably the one of the worst years of my life. A group of eighth grader boys would mercilessly surround me, taunt and berate me between my last two classes. There were many times I would feign illness after lunch just to be sent home to avoid the bullying. Things finally came to a head when one of the boys cupped his hand and smacked me on the right side of my head. (To this day I have minor hearing lose in that ear.) I really don’t remember much after that. I don’t remember going to my next class. I don’t remember sitting down at my desk, putting my head down on my arms and bawling uncontrollably while holding my right ear which was ringing so loud I could barely hear. I was brought out of my daze when my teacher stopped class, slammed a book down on her desk and yelled, “THAT'S IT!” (She had been aware of the problem but at the time, since no one had touched me, there was nothing she could do about it.)
She proceeded to take me to the nurse’s office to be checked out. Apparently the right side of my head was quite red. As I sat there with an ice pack against my ear, the principle came in with the yearbook from the previous year. Through the tears, I scanned through it as though I was looking at police mug shots, trying to pick out the boys that had assaulted me. Three of the boys that I was able to identify received 3 days out of school suspension and another 3 of them received 3 days in school suspension.
Even after the group of boys was finally punished for their parts in the physical harassment and assault, they continued to individually pick on me for the rest of the school year. There were a few times I vaguely remember having to go well out of my way to go home after school, just to avoid them. Most of those times I know I have repressed or just plain deleted from my memory banks. As I look back, the bullying was bad enough, I don't want to think of what life would have been like if I came out as transgender back then.
My story, unfortunately, is not unique! Kids are the target for bullies in their schools and on the web everyday. For those kids that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, it's even worse. Approximately 86 percent of LGBT youth report verbal harassment in school. Nearly half of LGBT youth report being physically harassed by their peers, with an alarming 22 percent of gay and transgender youth being assaulted. Unfortunately, nearly 60% of those kids never report the abuse because they fear they will not be believed.
31 percent of those harassed that reported the abuse to school staff received no response.
Some of the risk factors for teen suicide are inability to find success at school, feelings of worthlessness, and rejection by friends or peers. Continued harassment cuts down on a child’s sense of worth and many times cause deep depression if left untreated. LGBT youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
Bullying is a disease that is preventable. We as adults are responsible. It is our job to recognize the problem and step in. The news is full of kids that are dying or unfortunately, taking other drastic action. When are we going to stand up and say enough is enough? As I finish writing this, and the tears are beginning to flow, please,I beg you, talk to your kids. It's time we teach all of our kids to see the strengths in each other rather than point out the weaknesses. It's time we focus and celebrate each other's unique qualities rather than belittle someone for being different.