10/06/2010

Youth Advocates, Educators Gather for Premiere of SPLC’s New Film to Combat Anti-Gay Bullying

A crowd gathered Tuesday night for the Washington, D.C., premiere of the SPLC’s latest Teaching Tolerance film, a classroom documentary designed to combat anti-gay bullying.

Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History premiered at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Oct. 5 at an event that highlighted the destructive power and the tragic consequences of anti-gay bullying.

SPLC President Richard Cohen and co-founder Morris Dees introduced the film, noting the need for schools to adopt strong anti-bullying policies that specifically protect gay and lesbian students.

The SPLC is making the film and teaching kit available – free of charge – to every school in the country. Educators have already ordered more than 17,000 kits. The release of Bullied coincides with National Bullying Prevention Month, in October.

 

“In recent weeks we’ve seen a number of teens take their own lives after enduring anti-gay harassment,” Cohen said. “Each tragedy is a sobering reminder of our responsibility to take a stand against anti-gay bullying in our schools. Bullied is a way for students and educators to confront this issue head on.”

Bullied chronicles the powerful story of a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and won a landmark federal court decision 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 September, at least four teens killed themselves after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, at least four students have committed suicide in the past year alone.

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 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-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 Nabozny and his parents.

“Students should never be afraid for their safety at school,” said Nabozny, now 34. “That’s the message we want to be heard in every school across the country.”

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

Bullied and its teaching kit can be ordered here. The film has been endorsed by the National Education Association, GLSEN and many other organizations. The viewer’s guide contains classroom tools and professional development materials.

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.