Last week I had the great honor of taking my Life After Bullying workshop series to the Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. What an amazing experience! After battling a seven hour delay due to the Metro North black out I finally arrived with just minutes to spare before addressing the entire Upper School class. I opened by sharing with them my own disparaging story of abuse. They were attentive, respectful and responsive when I engaged them in questions like why their attempt to start a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) failed. The girl who tried to initiate the club said, “I posted the signup sheet but no one signed up because they were afraid if they joined the GSA then everyone would think they were gay.” It was a perfect segue into my section on identity and the basic right and freedom for every student to have a choice in how they identify. I talked candidly about students who identify at “straight” feeling uncomfortable around LGBTQ students. We discussed where their belief systems come from and how they can hold on to their beliefs and still respect and accept conflicting beliefs in others.
In a predominately white school with just a handful of students of color we talked about white privilege in America and how that sets up a ripe environment for bullying. Two young men of color came up to me after and shook my hand with a nod and a thank you. These kids are smart and were grateful to have a place to talk about what’s not being talked about. I addressed young “straight” men and their discomfort with the whole “gay” issue. I encouraged them to talk about their discomfort with an appropriate educator. Because if they keep it inside then it comes out in aggressive behavior, and it’s really just a buried fear festering into anger unless they know it’s okay to have those feelings and it’s okay to express them in a safe environment away from the student causing their discomfort. We need to encourage our young men to talk about their feelings more in this country.
Three sophomore boys came up to me after the workshop who identify as “straight”. One said, “I have a sister in New York who identifies as “Queer” thanks for talking about that word.” His friend then said, “I’ll never make fun of a gay kid after hearing you today.” That’s why I started Life After Bullying.