LBGTQ Bullying: What is a Teacher’s Responsibility?
By Matthew Lynch
Teachers are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect of their students, and in the past, that has typically dealt with domestic issues. As in-class and cyber bullying is on the rise, and children are facing physical harm as a result, teachers must now keep one eye on this type of abuse too.
Teachers and administrators have the responsibility to report and prevent bullying. This applies to bullying of any type, and bullying of any student. Though bullying certainly impacts more than a single type of student, those with alternative sexual preferences, who often fall under the umbrella label LBGTQ, tend to face the worst brunt of peer scrutiny, meanness and even violence. Teachers and administrators can no longer turn a blind eye, or allow belief systems to govern the way that students behave if it involves bullying another student because of his or her sexual identity. Gay bullying must stop and the cultural shift to support that must start in K-12 classrooms.
It is important to recognize that anti-gay bullying takes many forms. It is often the result of homophobia, ignorance, and disrespect, which can be alleviated through proper information and prejudice intervention. With just a little bit of classroom discussion and understanding, students can learn the importance of respect for all fellow students, including LGBTQ peers.
These discussions are about more than just having warm and fuzzy feelings toward fellow man, though. Legislation indicates that failure to intervene in these circumstances may jeopardize teaching certificates and licenses. Lambda Legal Defense cautions that if teachers and counselors are not actively helpful (or worse, hurtful) they may be guilty of legal violation in their failure to address the abusive anti-gay behavior. In many states, this could jeopardize a teacher’s certificate, as some state laws expressly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In recent years, many high schools have formed Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. Like other after-school special interest clubs, supportive teachers sponsor these groups, and meet periodically to plan social events, public and community service projects, and promote understanding among all students. Sometimes these organizations meet with resistance from the community, administrators, and school officials on the grounds of conservatism, avoidance of controversy, and the fear of promoting an agenda counter to the majority values of the local demographic. Make no mistake, however, GSA clubs are protected under the Equal Access Act [20 U.S.C. § 4071], which states that if a school receives federal funding and has non-curricular clubs, a Gay/Straight Alliance student group is entitled to recognition just like any other student group.
Regardless of a teacher’s personal ideology, as educators we are bound to uphold a code of tolerance and acceptance. We have a professional commitment to make the classroom and the school a safe environment for all students. Educators must provide positive role models and supportive, responsive intervention. We must actively deliver the message that bullying, prejudice and hate are wrong in all circumstances. All school personnel are responsible for keeping abusive language and behavior out of the classroom and the school culture.