Friday, April 17, 2009

PFLAG Talks to About School Bullying

Lauren Cox at has just posted a terrific new article on school bullying - and LGBT youth issues - that includes insights from PFLAG's Safe Schools Coordinator, Suzanne Greenfield, and Lisa Rivero, a PFLAG mom in South Florida who talks about her own son's battle with bullies.

Here's an excerpt from this morning's report:

Clearly, children's words -- and the inaction of adults -- can hurt. Just last week an 11-year-old boy in Springfield, Mass., committed suicide, reportedly because he was distressed that his classmates repeatedly called him "gay."

But school psychologists are increasingly interested in what teachers and parents say -- especially since they are often the first to notice developing tensions over a child's gender and sexual identity.

Lisa Rivero of Brevard County, Fla., spotted problems with her child by the third grade.

"He had always been bullied. Even from elementary school the kids have been calling him 'faggot' and 'gay' because he didn't fit the gender norm of what a normal boy should be doing," Rivero said of her now 17-year-old son, Josh.

Although no one ever asked her outright, Rivero said she got hints that teachers and school administrators were questioning her son's sexual orientation.

"I had one teacher tell me during a parent teacher conference, 'Well, I have some concerns about him that during recess he prefers to be with the girls and not with the boys,'" said Rivero. "I said, was he struggling academically because of it? If no, well then that's his decision."

Some families are completely shocked when their children come out the closet. But Rivero said she was among many other parents who guessed their child's sexual orientation long before the child even knew what it meant.

"It didn't come to as a surprise to us. ... We were just waiting for him to come to the realization," Rivero said. Rivero said Josh came out the summer before starting high school.

"I've talked to so many other parents who say the same thing, especially moms," Rivero said. "There are so many moms, we can't describe it. We just know."

But, as Greenfield tells ABC, teachers often struggle with the issue, and even those with the best of intentions sometimes don't have the resources, or training, they need to do the right thing.

More from Cox's story:

"Teachers, even with the best of intentions, don't know what to do. They don't want to talk about religious beliefs or sex," said Suzanne Greenfield, the senior "Safe Schools" coordinator for Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Greenfield explained.

Rivero said she went through a trying time with well-meaning teachers to deal with children who taunted her son.

Rivero remembers her son first asking what 'gay' mean in the third grade after a bullying incident. To the best of her ability, she sat down Josh and his younger sister and tried to explain what it meant in children's terms.

"I spoke with principals over the years and got the typical responses: 'Oh well, he needs to toughen up' or 'Oh, it's usually his fault,'" Rivero said.

By high school the family was dealing with threats of physical violence on MySpace. Rivero said the school administration told her the only way she could ensure her son didn't have a class with the boy who was threatening him was to get a restraining order.

"It wasn't until that kid got off the bus and was handed a restraining order that his parents were ever notified that this was going on," said Rivero.

To read the full report, click here.

Photo: Lisa Rivero and her son, Josh, faced anti-homosexual slurs from the time Josh was in elementary school. (ABC News)

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