In the wake of the failure of the bullying bill and all of the threads about bullying I have been thinking about the message sent by the failure of this bill and the stated reason for its failure. It is hard to escape the notion that the message of those who stopped this bill is that bullying gay kids is OK. Of all of the nearly dozen categories of children and acts listed only one, sexual orientation, was a big deal. It is hard not to have the message be pick on the gay kids but leave the rest alone.
I know what it is like when adults send the wrong message. My earliest memory of being bullied at school dates from 1st grade and gym class. Our gym teacher was a man named Mr. Salupo who for some reason hated my guts. Once a week we had gym class and I would have to face this grown man calling me chicken boy, wuss, wussy, and if he got me to cry, crybaby. For some reason I was the only one he did this to. Now, I will admit, openly and honestly, I stank up the joint at anything physical. I was deservedly picked last for anything and everything. So I wasn’t a model student. But I was respectful. I did as I was told. But I got called names by him and then the kids every week. Two times stand out.
Once, I had finally found a physical activity I could do. I could kick a kickball. Everytime up I got a homerun for about half the class. It was so cool. I went from total loser to hero. Then it happened. He started pitching to me all bouncy and I was right back to that total incompetent. And then the names started again. The second time that stands out was the time I finally told my parents. He had given us a pre quiz on scoring bowling and I already knew how to do it as I kept score for my parents league. Well, of course I aced his quiz and he decided I cheated. No amount of reasoning could convince him I hadn’t cheated and deserved a zero. I told my parents and that was the last time he gave me crap. In third grade, I had a new teacher, I don’t think those were totally unrelated. But the damage had been done. Thanks to this gym teacher I was a joke.
The second time an adult sent this message was at my junior high. By then picking on my was pretty much a sport. My eighth grade English teacher was the adult who gave the green light. I had PE first period and the kids decided to hide my regular clothes so I was in my gym clothes (think t shirt and 80’s style shorts). Embarassing but no real big deal. Then at lunch I noticed it was my English teacher’s turn at lunch duty and I knew I was in for a rough time. I was literally trash canned and had food dumped on me. After what seemed like forever but was likely less than 5 minutes I was let out to clean up. I was in the bathroom when the bell rang so I went to class still messy. Since I was late, I got paddled by this teacher, as the class laughed and called out faggot. Then I just sat there and tried not to cry. After class, he kept me after and asked “You know why I let them do this to you?” I just shrugged. He said “You are a faggot and if you have it bad enough you will change, now get to class”
What do we expect kids to do if the adults send that message? While less direct, the message the legislature sent was about the same. I can only hope that they will get the message right the next time.
For balance I want to say there were adults who sent the right message. A teacher I had for both 2nd and 6th grades was a literal God send who, when the 6th graders called me queer said, “he isn’t and if he were, why do you care?” A 10th grade teacher who told me college would be better and who was right. Today I am out to my fellow techers, sponser a GSA, don’t let bullying occur in my room, and am going to be out to my students (I take the I don’t discuss my personal life tack now) next year. In short, I made it. But that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile I don’t revert back to that kid at homeplate being called wuss so many years ago.
Our adults should send the right message.