Life for gay youths must get better now, not later

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Denise Rose

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 derose@comcast.net.

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

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bum@comcast.net  

Posted: November 13th, 2010 5:38 PM

I blame the competitive nature of our culture and our schools. As we move forward to address bullying we need to extend it to all ways children bully if we are to build tolerance. This means not allowing for bullying on the nature of sex, gender, orientation, race, religion, color, nationality, health status, obesity, etc. etc. We have failed our youth too long to providing them with the skills to display acceptance.

John  

Posted: November 13th, 2010 5:33 PM

Why has it taken so long for individuals to take up the issue of bullying? Have we not seen enough school shootings? Why were those not a catalyst for change? Please do not take me as a critic, but our schools have been extremely neglectful in addressing any sort of bullying. I think one issue was the slow evolution of "Christian Values" out of school, with the lack of something to replace it. Therefore, it become not the school's task to teach students how to treat one another.

Suzanne DalLago from Addison, Il  

Posted: November 7th, 2010 1:12 AM

I love Ms. Rose's article and find it thought provoking and educational. All her suggestions should be implemented NOW. Why wait? Why delay? Why not act TODAY?

Ralph H. Lee from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2010 12:26 PM

Denise:Your statement is not only correct and important, but necessary. While gay and lesbian teen agers need to be offered hope of better times, we cannot allow this message to generate complacency on the part of the rest of us. The changes that need to take place in our community and our society will only come about through deliberate action on the part of individuals acting in organized thoughtful groups. We need such reminders.Ralph H. Lee

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 10:24 AM

Denise -- its no surprise to me to read your powerful article and you are absolutely right on all counts.I will reach out to you for involvement in the 'It Gets Better' effort, for today and the future, as you so eloquently have stated.The youth at OPRF HS will be taking up the idea at their next meeting and we'll go from there.....

Jennifer Purrenhage from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 6:34 PM

Well said! I could not agree more. Our kids - every one of them - deserve safe, respectful communities. There is never a reason, religious or other, for intolerance, belittling, or name-calling.

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