09/23/2010

‘Bullied’ Offers Lessons for Students, Educators

In response to mounting reports of vicious anti-gay bullying and student suicides, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project is making a new documentary film and educational kit available – free of charge – to every school in the country. 

Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History chronicles the powerful story of a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and filed a federal lawsuit against his school district. The suit led 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 that ruling, anti-gay bullying continues to be a severe, nationwide problem. In Massachusetts, for example, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself with an extension cord in 2009 after being bullied by classmates who perceived him as gay. In Indiana, another student hanged himself earlier this month after being subjected to anti-gay bullying. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, at least four gay students have committed suicide in the past year alone. 

“Schools can no longer stick their heads in the sand when it comes to anti-gay bullying and prejudice – the stakes are simply too high,” said Maureen Costello, the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance director. “Some organizations, like Focus on the Family, believe that schools shouldn’t talk about the problem. But nothing will change – and thousands of gay and straight children alike will continue to suffer abuse – until schools confront this crisis head on.”

The film and its teaching kit can be ordered online. The film, endorsed by the National Education Association, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and many other organizations, is being released in time for National Bullying Prevention Month in October.  The viewer’s guide contains classroom tools and professional development materials.

Nearly nine out of 10 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students experienced harassment in the past year – a rate three times higher than students in general, according to a 2009 GLSEN survey. 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-gay 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.

Bullied tells the story of Jamie Nabozny, who suffered relentless verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his classmates in Ashland, Wis. School officials failed to stop the attacks, despite pleas from Jamie and his parents.

“Students should never be afraid for their safety at school,” said Nabozny, now 34. “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.”

The SPLC urges school districts to adopt policies that specifically address bullying based on sexual orientation or gender expression.

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. 

Teachers can order the film here.

Read more about the film here.