Advocates: Policies needed to stop bullying of gay students
Group calls on educators to adopt rules to make schools safe for all
PHOENIX — Schools can reduce bullying against students based on sexual orientation or identity by adopting policies listing groups that typically are targeted and encouraging teachers and staff members to intervene, two advocates said Friday.
“People are still not confident enough in the rightness and correctness of making schools safe for all students,” said Matthew Heil, a city of Phoenix public information officer who serves as co-chair of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s Phoenix chapter.
“Most teachers want to step in but sometimes feel handcuffed by conflicting policies,” said Madelaine Adelman, the group’s co-chair and an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation.
A simple change in state law could change that, Adelman told those attending a brown-bag seminar sponsored by the city.
Current state law requires school districts to have procedures for preventing harassment, intimidation or bullying of students, as well as procedures for dealing with incidents. The law would be more effective, she said, if it required policies to list categories most commonly associated with the problem, such as race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity expression and nationality. The law also should require that teachers get involved, she added.
“That would make the difference,” Adelman said. “It would provide teachers with a clear direction that when they see something wrong they intervene.”
When schools have clear policies and procedures against bullying, homophobic remarks and victimization decline, more staff members get involved and more incidents are reported, Adelman and Heil, citing research by the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
“Policies really do work when they’re stated clearly and they’re backed up,” Adelman said.
Heil said the strength of a school district’s requirements for teachers who witness bullying based on sexual orientation or identity depends in large part on the views of school board members.
“If they don’t think it’s necessary for students they probably don’t think it’s necessary for their employees,” he said.
Heil said many parents consider this strictly a gay and lesbian issue, thinking they needn’t become involved. But they should, he said.
“Making the place safer is good for everyone,” Heil said.