11/09/2010

Southern Poverty Law Center Takes Aim at Anti-Gay Bullying in Minnesota

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) took aim at anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) bullying Tuesday with a free community screening of its new film, Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History, at the historic Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

“Minnesota has experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of bullying,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “It’s important that the community have a serious conversation about this crisis, and we hope that our film can help bring some insight to that.

The SPLC called for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, where, community-based advocates say, at least four LGBT students have committed suicide in the past year alone, to eliminate its current “neutrality” policy. (Anoka-Hennepin school officials say that only one of the students who committed suicide was confirmed to be gay and that none had reported bullying to school staff.) The policy instructs teachers to remain “neutral” on matters regarding sexual orientation.

“The policy is ‘neutral’ in theory, but one-sided in fact and dangerous in practice,” Cohen said. “As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.’”

Bullied was produced by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program, a leading provider of free, anti-bias materials to schools. The film chronicles the powerful story of Jamie Nabozny, who suffered relentless verbal and physical abuse at the hands of classmates in Ashland, Wis. Nabozny filed suit, leading to a landmark federal court decision holding that school officials could be held accountable for not stopping the harassment and abuse of gay students.

Despite the ruling, anti-gay bullying continues to be a severe, nationwide problem. At least four student suicides across the nation were reported in September alone.

“Students should never be afraid for their safety at school,” said Nabozny, now 35. “This film offers hope to students who are being harassed and should inspire educators to live up to their responsibility to stop the bullying that is shattering lives.”

Nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in the past year – a rate three times higher than students in general, according to a recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Lesbian, gay or bisexual adolescents also are twice as likely to be depressed and think about or attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers, according to research cited by the government.

But anti-LGBT bullying is not confined to students who are actually gay. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Mental Health Association, anti-gay bullying is frequently directed at straight students who are perceived as gay.

The SPLC is making the Bullied film and teaching kit available – free of charge – to every school in Minnesota and across the country. They can be requested at: www.tolerance.org/bullied. Educators have already ordered more than 30,000 kits.

Bullied is the seventh film produced by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program. Four of the program’s past documentaries have been nominated for Academy Awards®, and two films – “A Time for Justice” and “Mighty Times: The Children’s March”– have won the Oscar® in the short documentary category.