Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Georgia, Honoring Jaheem & Speaking Up for Safe Schools

PFLAG members in Georgia are active participants in the local community's response to the tragic loss of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, who committed suicide on April 16th after complaining of being bullied in his Atlanta-area elementary school. His mother, Masika Bermudez, had met with school officials, but Jaheem said he continued to suffer anti-gay and anti-immigrant taunts.

At a community vigil for Jaheem on Tuesday in Decatur, where Jaheem lived, PFLAG parent René Sanchez (pictured, above, with PFLAG executive director Jody M. Huckaby) warned against a culture of bullying outside the schoolhouse gate that has real consequences inside the schoolyard.

"Until we recognize the connections between our public discourse and what goes on in the schoolyard, we are living in denial," said Sanchez, who is co-president of PFLAG-Macon. "Not only do we need to tell kids directly that it is not okay to bully, but we as a society must stop demonizing gay people and immigrants for short-term political gain.

"Once they go inside the schoolhouse gate, our children are just acting out what they see adults doing in the real world," Sanchez said. "If we bully each other, they will bully each other."

René made his remarks to a packed church of hundreds from the local LGBTA community who came to express their sorrow at Jaheem's loss, their sympathy for his family, and their resolve to end bullying in their community. Many of them were PFLAG members, including Dale Merkle, who chairs PFLAG-Atlanta's Safe Schools effort.

Prior to the vigil, Dale had met with Bob Moseley, a deputy superintendent of the DeKalb County school system, which includes Jaheem's school. Dale gave Moseley a brief overview of PFLAG and the Cultivating Respect program. Moseley agreed that PFLAG and the school district have a common goal in reducing bullying and harassment in the schools, and he put Dale in touch with the official who directs the school district's "No Place To Hate" program.

Over the years, PFLAG members have tabled and presented workshops at the annual Georgia School Counselors Association conference, and Dale regularly submits workshop proposals to the Georgia PTA and Georgia School Boards Association conferences. Dale is also in touch with school districts around Georgia, compiling information on their policies regarding student conduct, bullying, harrassment, and protections for LGBT employees.

- Lance Helms

Photo by Edric Floyd.


Suzanne Greenfield said...

Thank you PFLAG Atlanta and PFLAG Macon for using your voices to support families and working to make sure ever child is safe in school. Suzanne Greenfield

bigpumpkins said...

This is why I still work for LBGT rights after more than 40 years. I still am a member of PFLAG and work with my local chapter. I counseled two 15-year old boys many years ago and, in spite of my and others best efforts, they committed suicide because they could no longer take the harassment and bullying at school. It actually seems worse now than before.