Fri | May 26, 2017

Zero Tolerance for Homophobic Bullying

Published:Thursday | April 2, 2015 | 4:00 AMJaevion Nelson

Many of our children's right to education in a safe learning environment is being violated by other children who bully. They are repeatedly hit, kicked, or pushed to hurt, or called names, threatened, or teased because, among other things, of a disability, their health status, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic back-ground, or they do not conform to expected gender behaviours. Students who appear weak and most vulnerable are often subjected to this harmful practice which we fail to speak about as much as we should.

Last Friday, my colleague sent me two very disturbing video clips of two male students (allegedly?) in Morant Bay, St Thomas, striking another male student because they perceive (or perhaps know) he is gay. I watched in great agony - paralysed with fear that something dreadful would happen - as these students inflicted harm on the boy. He could do nothing but accept the beating as dozens of others stood on the sidelines cheering. The clips reminded me of the many experiences friends, colleagues, family and others have shared about being bullied in high school. Some said they were often beaten, jeered, sexually assaulted, and intimidated, among other things.

culturally permissible behaviour

In many of these cases, when they finally mustered the courage to seek help, their teachers, guidance counsellors, and school administrators did nothing to address their concerns. In fact, in some cases, they were further victimised and told they deserved what had happened to them. What kind of society are we engendering? Do all children not deserve to be free from discrimination and violence and to learn in a safe environment? It is rather unfortunate that our children are growing up in a society where this kind of behaviour is culturally permissible. It is even more regrettable that many educators and school administrators ignore acts of bullying in whatever form, for whatever reason.

Consequently, many students feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed and sad. They often develop coping mechanisms such as truancy, drug and alcohol use, among others. I have come across quite a few young people who wanted to end their life, have low self-esteem, hide away from school, and did poorly academically, among other things, because of the bullying they experienced. One of my close friends who was an 'A' student in high school, well rounded, and from a lovingly family, but he thought so often to commit suicide. Nothing else mattered to him than putting an end to being called a sissy.

A study conducted by FHI 360, titled 'Experiences of Stigma and Discrimination among Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in Jamaica', found educational institutions were the third most popular environment where discrimination was experienced by MSM surveyed. It is most disappointing that despite the data and plethora of stories we have heard over the years we aren't doing more to address this growing problem.

Why do we have to wait until someone ends up in the hospital or at the morgue to be prodded into action? It would be great if the Ministry of Education could address this issue and remind our educators that bullying in our schools by our children and teachers is intolerable. Educators, in their duty to care and act in the child's best interest, have a responsibility regardless of their values and religious beliefs on the matter. I encourage the Ministry of Education to work with our educators to develop/conduct targeted interventions with youth and teachers.

Anti-bullying prevention

Anti-bullying/bullying prevention interventions should be designed and conducted to promote a social norm that bullying is wrong and not to be tolerated. I know many of our school administrators, parents and others faced with this quandary do not necessarily feel equipped to respond to these issues. I, therefore, recommend that they seek support in developing appropriate responses, which include appropriate psychosocial counselling services (not biblical counselling) for victims and perpetrators from other school administrators who might be so equipped.

J-FLAG and its partners should be consulted and/or included. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to our children's suffering. Sanctions and other remedies as well as interventions must be pursued to ensure zero tolerance to bullying and provide much-needed support for those who are affected. It is incumbent on all of us to engender safe learning spaces for all our children to thrive and reach their full potential where they won't experience verbal, physical, or social exclusion, insulting or degrading comments, name calling, taunts, insults or 'jokes', offensive graffiti, humiliating, tormenting, or ridiculing or threatening.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.