Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs had no idea when they recorded their famous 1965 song that the wooly bullies of 2019 would be so fierce. Nor did they envision the consequences of wooly bullying to become as drastic as they have turned out to be.
Bullying is clearly intended to hurt the one at the receiving end of the actions and words, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes, the one being bullied reaches their limit of tolerance, ending their own life.
Such was the tragic case of Channing Smith, a 16-year-old student from Manchester, Tennessee. Channing was struggling with coming out and had yet to share this with his family. He had a frank, private conversation on his phone with a friend which a fellow student then posted on social media. Early the next morning, Channing’s father discovered that his son had taken his life.
Crystal Smith, Channing’s mother, told local news, “Posting one little picture can destroy somebody’s life. I can’t describe the pain. You can’t understand it. How somebody could be that mean to somebody just for the fun of it? It doesn’t make any sense.”
An interesting—and unfortunate—twist is that the Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott, overseeing the bullying investigation, is himself under investigation. The State Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility has Northcott under review for speaking to a group of pastors, telling them that he would not prosecute domestic violence cases involving same-sex couples. He also stated he does not recognize “homosexual marriage.”
A life has ended due to bullying. Smith’s family will live with only memories of a son or brother. The void in this household will bring tears, fears, and frustration for a world that allows such bullying to prosper. Yet we acknowledge that Channing is but one of many whose lives ended too soon.
Here in Delaware, bullying seems as much a part of school life as recess and band practice. Cape Henlopen School District discussed updating its Bully Prevention Policy at a recent Board meeting. Theirs is a very thorough policy which dictates steps to take if someone commits bullying acts.
There is involvement on the part of parents of both the bully and the bullied. Teachers are held accountable for ignoring bullying actions. A “Bully Committee” meets to discuss any incidents and to determine an appropriate course of action. Much of this policy is template verbiage from the state level, sent to all school districts. Having a policy in place does not always translate to action taken. But it is a start.
In addition to the Bully Prevention Policy, the District’s Nondiscrimination Policy is being similarly updated. “Sexual orientation” is already a protected class and the Board seems ready to add “gender identity” and “gender fluidity” to the list. As this policy affects the Bully Prevention Policy, it would be a significant step forward to provide relief to any transgender or gender fluid student attending school. At its most basic level, it is an acknowledgment that these students are part of the district’s education system, deserving the same protections from bullying as any other student.
Bullying can migrate from the student level to envelop the parents of bullies and the bullied. One parent of a transgender girl has been bullied by parents of the students who have bullied her daughter. This mother shares, “Parents have harassed me online and at parent pick-up. I fought for [this school administration] to hold parents accountable. I pleaded with them to add this language to the Code of Conduct, and this year, they did.”
The Code of Conduct now includes this statement: “Parents and guardians play an important role in their children’s understanding and respect for human diversity. Parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to conduct themselves in ways that contribute to a safe and inclusive school environment. Parents also have a personal responsibility to conduct themselves in a way that respects the human diversity as well.”
This mother has decided that the best support she can provide her transgender daughter is to withdraw her from the local school district and enroll her in a cyber-school. Since numerous incidents of bullying have gone unabated and unresolved over the last couple years, the time for change has come for this family.
The social environment in which we presently exist is one that gives permission to, and indeed perpetuates, bullying. From the march in Charlottesville to the suicides of LGBTQ youth, bullying has never been more in evidence. We can learn from people such as Sara Cunningham, who founded the Free Mom Hugs campaign. Her basic message is—Do SOMEthing! A simple hug can convey to LGBTQ youth they are loved and accepted, thereby reducing the power of antagonistic bullies. ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter.