Oak Park trustees Ray Johnson and Colette Lueck want to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens that life gets better once you grow up [Oak Park elected officials want to tell gay teens it’s OK, News, Oct. 20]. Their goal to create a promotional video using LGBT Oak Park residents is motivated by the “It Gets Better Project,” initiated by gay columnist Dan Savage as a suicide prevention strategy for LGBT youths.
Here’s my thought: Let’s not just tell gay teens that it gets better when they grow up. Let’s do all we can to make their lives better now. One important arena where work needs to be done is in our schools.
On Oct. 10 at the LGBT documentary film series, sponsored by the Oak Park Public Library and the local PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter, a film about anti-gay bullying in schools was shown. After the film a speaker from the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance convened a discussion on how Oak Park schools could enhance their environments to make them more nurturing and safe for LGBT youths and straight youths who have LGBT parents. Following are three suggestions from that discussion.
The first involved a film titled “That’s a Family,” which is apparently locked up in the Beye School principal’s office. If teachers want to use this film to educate their classrooms that families come in diverse forms, with one form being LGBT parents, teachers must get this film from the principal. While this is not the usual way teachers get curriculum materials purchased by the district, this film has special checkout procedures because, during the last school year, a minority of parents complained that this film was not suitable for Beye classrooms since some family forms displayed in the film were viewed as troubling.
The second suggestion is that all District 97 schools and Oak Park and River Forest High School should enhance the physical and emotional safety of their environments by offering specific staff training that takes into consideration the needs of LGBT students and youths who have LGBT parents. A particular problem facing such children is anti-gay bullying language — calling students “fags” or “dykes” are examples. Another issue is using the phrase “that is so gay” to demean, ridicule or put down something. I personally learned of a recent middle school encounter where a child was called a fag because his peers did not like the pants he was wearing. When that language is used, children who have gay parents or who may think they are LGBT themselves find school an emotionally unsafe place.
The final suggestion is that an organized group of Oak Park residents should form to encourage districts 97 and 200 to take additional steps to make their institutions psychologically and physically safer and eliminate bullying that can lead some students to contemplate suicide. Therefore, let’s not just tell our LGBT youths that life will get better when they grow up. Let’s tell them that our community will do all we can to make things better now. If you’d like to be part of this organized group, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Denise Rose, a sociologist and longtime Oak Parker, is an advocate for issues of social justice and a member of the Oak Park chapter of PFLAG.%uFEFF