Friday, October 28, 2011

Letter to the Editor (Denley/Bullying)

The following is a letter I submitted to The Vancouver Sun today, in response to an article that appeared yesterday titled "Good intentions can't protect our teens from bullies," written by Randall Denley.  You don't need to read Denley's opinion piece to understand what I wrote, but, just in case you want to see it, please click here.

I am furious.  Randall Denley’s position that bullying in schools will never go away, and the only option is to console the family after a teen suicide happens, then move on with life, outrages me.  All of you reading this should be outraged, too.     
Denley writes as if recent Ottawa suicide victim Jamie Hubley provoked the bullying that senselessly ended his young life by being openly gay.  Mr Denley, I wasn’t openly gay in the 1970s when I was in school, but do you think that stopped any of my bullies from physically, verbally, and emotionally assaulting me from elementary school to the very day of my high school graduation ceremony?  How dare you blame Jamie for what happened to him.  You have a lot of gall.  
Maybe you, Mr. Denley, have no clue when it comes to what we can do to counter bullying, but I can think of a few things.         
At Jamie’s school, the principal should haul every student into the auditorium, along with local law enforcement officers, and tell them what happened to their classmate is unacceptable, and, effective immediately, the school’s adopted a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, with swift and appropriate punishment for offenders, including expulsion.  Jamie’s bullies should be publicly identified, pictures of them enlarged and posted on a bulletin board in the hallway, with the word BULLY clearly written below them.  And they should be held accountable for contributing to Jamie’s death with the school making their parents aware of the role their children played in it, and stating clear expectations for their conduct going forward, as well as the repercussions if those expectations are not met.        
In every high school across the country, zero tolerance policies should be instituted with the consequences of violations clearly stated, including public identification and shaming.  All principals and teachers should immediately address bullying issues reported to them or witnessed firsthand, including contacting parents, and bringing the bullies, the bullied, and their parents together for a meeting to get to the bottom of the issue and put an end to it once and for all.  Gay/straight alliances should be implemented (enough of this crap about parents don’t want their precious children to know gay people exist).  And repeat offenders should be required to complete labour in and around the school to a specified standard, and attend sensitivity training classes as well.    
Idealistic?  You bet.  Unrealistic?  You decide.  But here’s what I know for sure.  The issue of bullying in our schools, where students of every single minority, including gays and lesbians, should feel safe in order to get the best education possible, must be hammered and hammered hard.  If an example must be made of one or two particularly offensive bullies, so be it.  Every student must know what will happen if he or she is in any way involved in bullying other students for whatever reason.      
One death due to bullying is one too many.  To say that nothing can be done about it, so we might as well give up and accept it, is, in my opinion, the same as saying nothing can be done about cancer, so why bother fund raising, conducting research, and working to find a cure.  Not good enough, Mr. Denley, not good enough at all.  You should be ashamed of your position.   

(Note:  As of November 9, my letter had not been selected for publication in The Vancouver Sun.)


  1. There are 2 things I don't get. #1: Why are the people in charge so reluctant to take action against the bullies? And #2: If it's okay to name the ones who commit suicide why is it not okay to name the bullies? Personally I think bullying at school should be a criminal code offense because it goes way beyond "mischief." Maybe we need to put pressure on the politicians to make that happen. Perhaps only THEN will the bullies be held accountable. If Prime Minister Harper is going to get tough on crime, school bullying is a good place to start.

    Alison in Victoria

  2. Here are quick and dirty answers to your two questions, Alison, which I've wondered myself for most of my life:

    1). People are reluctant to take action against bullies because, although kids are bullied for many different reasons, one of the major ones is sexual orientation. In many people's minds, homosexuality is bad, immoral, and evil. So, to support the bullied and come down on the bullies is as much as saying, I don't believe homosexuality is bad, immoral, and evil, and I support gay and lesbian kids. You'd have to be pretty strong to withstand the criticism that would be directed at you. In other words, we need to change the perception that homosexuality is bad; then the mainstream community will consider the bullying against gay kids to be bad, too.

    2). The reason why the names of those who commit suicide are known, while the names of the bullies who contributed the suicide are not, is because there's more shame in being bullied (for example, if you're gay) than there is in bullying. I had this very conversation with my mother yesterday. I didn't dare tell her and my father about being bullied in school because I would have had to reveal why I was being bullied. I couldn't do that because there was (and still is) too much shame associated with being gay. So I shut my mouth and took it. The bottom is line, the rights of the bully are put before the rights of the bullied. That's the way it's always been, and that needs to be changed.

    You know, you are absolutely right. How can we not hold bullies criminally accountable for contributing to the death of a teenager in the same way we'd prosecute someone holding a gun and shooting someone? To me, they are essentially one and the same.

    As Denley in the "Sun" article writes, we've gotten used to bullying over the decades, and we consider it a natural part of growing up. He was bullied, I was bullied, and we recovered from it, so what's the harm?

    Well, I can tell you what the harm is. How many years of did I waste hating myself as a result of the bullying I endured? How was I held back in the decisions I made because I didn't believe I was worthy? Will I ever totally overcome the effects of bullying? I doubt it.

    Bullying is a crime and should be treated as such. That said, we need to overhaul our criminal justice system where young offenders are concerned, because they can literally murder someone, not be publicly identified, and get out for good behavior in a few years. What's wrong with that?

    Thanks so much for you comment.

  3. Think for a second before you judge someone over one's looks, weird voice, occupation, old car, etc! Sometimes our everyday conversations are about how we both think that the third person is a strange fellow. Bullying is accepted by adults! This is not an issue of lawmakers, it's an issue of everyday people accepting and tolerating it as a natural part of their lives.

    At the same time, every person has to know that there are people who have dealt with a lot more than being emotionally and sometimes physically bullied. There are forms of evil in the world that overweighs things we think are bad. So, it's hard to think that someone has endured more than I have... I thought I endured severe bullying in school, but looking back and knowing some other stories, I can now see how lucky I was compared to some people. This brings me to my conclusion, it should be talked about more! Like there is a project for gay youth (itgetsbetter), other stories about hard moments in life should be revealed. It's all about not feeling alone and a freak. I love the fact that I can speak to my parents about that I was bullied in school, I can speak to Rick about the fact that I am gay. I can communicate! How lucky I am, because of that. Many people can't speak about terrible things that have happened in their lives. Just to survive, to fit in to the perspective that others have of a good human being.

  4. Adults may condone bullying, Elevencats, but the majority of bullying originates with kids at school. Once I left high school, way back in 1977, the bullying I put up with stopped altogether. Bullying is unacceptable to adults, and we wouldn't put up with it. But, as kids, we do because we don't know the difference, and we don't know how to defend ourselves without causing more trouble (at least, that's in part why I didn't try fighting my bullies).

    As a young adult, did I get called "faggot" sometimes when I walked through the mall or on the street? You bet I did. But the day-in, day-out, nonstop verbal and physical abuse took place in grade school, and that's where it needs to be stopped.

    I have a two-part theory about bullying: 1). At the point my bullies started to give me trouble, they were trying to resist adult authority (their parents) and figure out who they were. I think kids do that largely through their positive, and negative, interactions with other kids their own age. And 2). As part of resisting adult authority, I believe my bullies took out their aggressions over what they were going through at home (for example, with an authoritarian father and an alcoholic mother) on classmates. They may have felt they had no control at home, but, when they arrived at school, they ruled the roost over the weaker ones like me. I guess that made them feel powerful.

    Out of curiosity, when you were bullied in school, was it because your classmates thought/suspected you were gay? Or was it about something else?

    I understand bullying is bullying, and none of it feels good. But I honestly think the bullying levelled at kids who are considered gay is somehow worse, because society in general deplores homosexuality. So I feel kids get away with (or at least could when I went to school) bullying gay kids because everyone was on the side of the bully. It's like the attitude from adults was, he should know better. Being gay is wrong. Teach him a lesson. (At the same time, I hasten to add I can't say for sure my bullying was worse than what anyone else went through, because there are so many variables involved, including the pain threshold of the one being bullied, etc.)

    I agree, we need to get the issue of bullying out there more and keep the conversation going until those who can make a difference turn it into an important social issue (hence the reason why I bothered to write this letter). But I'm beyond conversation now. Overall, we are more socially aware, and we know no one should be bullied for any reason. So parents need to take more responsibility for their kids in this regard (good luck with that since many parents are far too lenient with their kids these days and let them get away with nearly anything), and schools, as I write in my letter, need to hammer this issue hard. If we can get both parents and schools on side, I think we'd see an enormous reduction in the amount of bullying that goes on, and I think there'd be a greater stigma attached to bullying.

    You know I'm always here for you, Elevencats. Whatever you can't talk to your parents about I'm happy to discuss with you. And that goes for any other gay and lesbian people out there who have no one to talk to and need to share what they're going through. I'm here for you, too.

    Thanks for your comment, Elevencats. I appreciate you taking the time to write it.