Last spring, PFAW staff members and friends attended a screening of Lee Hirsch’s documentary, Bully, which tells the stories of young people bullied in school, the challenges they faced, the actions they took, and the lessons they teach us all.
One such lesson was the idea that bullying is an environmental problem that requires climate change. Everyone has a stake. It’s not just bullies and the students they target. It’s students who witness incidents. It’s teachers and administrators with the power to intervene. It’s nurses and counselors dealing with the physical and emotional tolls taken. It’s parents trying to get through to their children. It’s community groups who simply want to help. It’s bus drivers. It’s also not about paying lip service to the problem. It’s about having a genuine interest in making it better now and sustaining those solutions in the future.
It was February 12, 2008. 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King, who had begun openly exploring a female expression of his gender identity, and 14-year-old Brandon McInerney were in a computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. With the flash of two gunshots, Larry was off to the hospital, fighting for his life in a battle that he would soon lose; and Brandon was under arrest, later tried as an adult and sentenced to 21 years. Never would their teacher and their classmates be the same.
Both boys had troubled family lives and were caught up in a system that never fully met their needs. They were students in a school where the administrators and most of the teachers and students didn’t understand Larry or what he was going through. Nobody adequately stepped up for Larry leading up to that fateful day. Even Larry’s friends and allies could do little to make the situation better.
Larry’s legacy is more than our enduring sadness. There is more that we can do.
It’s the same call to action that Dennis Van Roekel has made in his work as President of the National Education Association: (5:24)
Stories like Larry’s are the reason we must support climate change in schools nationwide. They’re the reason we must support federal legislation like the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Let’s make sure we stand up for not only tolerance but also for understanding in our own communities and schools.