The age of significant life events is trending downward and middle school educators need to pay it more attention. The average age that today’s LGBT teenagers come out to their friends and in some cases parents, according to the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth, is 13.4 years old. As a middle school principal for 15 years I learned first hand that middle school LGBT students face extreme levels of harassment daily. Words can be very hurtful, leading in some instances to suicide. In fact, some data indicates that 30 percent of teen suicides are related to LGBT harassment.
Bullying is endemic to middle school culture. It is an issue whose priority must be reassessed at all middle schools, especially as the bullying relates to LGBT youth. Along with increasing student achievement for all we must balance our work in schools with assuring the social and emotional health of all children.
At one of the schools where I was principal I arranged for a student panel for one of my faculty meetings. The panel consisted of LGBT students who formerly attended our school and now attended the feeder high school. They all spoke of their anger relative to not feeling like anyone at the middle school understood or recognized their issues of personal safety and bullying. They said they could not wait to leave middle school and enter high school where a Gay/Straight Alliance Club existed.
Since we were working on the issue of acceptance and reduction of bullying, the district asked me to enroll an out of district student who was transgender in my school. I will never forget the first meeting in my office with the parents, the transgender student, a counselor and my administrative team. The student told me he knew he was not female in 3rd grade. This was the first transgender middle school student who I knew had “come out” to his parents and school. Due to my ignorance, I thought transgender issues only came up in high school, yet I knew by experience that gay and lesbian students were very much a part of middle school. We kept the information confidential, at least as much as we could. I did lobby to have his teachers know so they could help protect him from harm.
As I sat at the annual dinner thrown by the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC) on Saturday night, I was contemplating how far we have come with the issues of LGBT rights in Silicon Valley and across the nation. Yet the keynote speaker, Lt. Dan Choi, a graduate of West Point, might be dishonorably discharged due to his “coming out” on the Rachel Maddow Show in March of this year; Proposition 8 passed in November, overturning the California Supreme Court’s decision in June, that equal respect and dignity of marriage is a basic civil right for all couples; and unconscionable bullying of LGBT youth is still rampant in our middle schools.
Teachers and administrators must be trained and become more sensitive to this issue of LGBT student bullying. Middle school principals working with superintendents and school boards must be proactive and come up with local policies and practices that reduce bullying of all kinds in middle school, with a focus on LGBT harassment. Feeder high school Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs could come down to the feeder middle schools and organize a meeting once a month at lunch. Do district and school administrators have the courage to promote this strategy?
On a side note: Congratulations to Congressman Mike Honda, 15th District, who was honored as the Legislator of the Year at the 25th Annual BAYMEC Dinner on Saturday, September 26. The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee began in 1984 by Supervisor Ken Yeager and Wiggsy Sivertsen, with its primary purpose to lobby for LGBT issues in a four county region. Their first dinner was held a Mitty High School with one political leader in attendance. Last Saturday over 80 national, state and local political leaders were introduced by Cindy Chavez, CEO of the South Bay Labor Council, at the sold out Imperial Ball Room Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel.
As one of those local elected officials I believe we must assure that ALL people have a seat at the table.