Today is the 100th day of school for most school districts, and will be marked with celebrations and activities marking 100 days of science, math, reading, social studies and the arts in elementary and middle schools throughout the country. Likewise, many high schools will have pep assemblies marking 100 days of football games, dances, aborted chemistry demos that didn't go quite as planned, burnt (but still edible) consumer science cooking projects and hard-earned B minuses on Trigonometry exams.
For many American kids, however, it also marks 100 days of terror, isolation, emotional, and even physical abuse - abuse that can lead to depression, the desire to drop out of school, and even thoughts or plans of suicide. Today marks 100 days of bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity for thousands of American kids.
Even when I was a gay teacher it never really hit me, as we celebrated the 100th day in my school district every year, what that meant for the kids who were getting bullied. I can't imagine waking up 100 days in a row and wishing the sun had just stayed down. The Safe Schools Action Network is trying to use this annual celebration to call attention to the terrible treatment that some kids get in our school systems today.
Not every victim of anti-gay bullying, however, is gay. Bellow the fold, I would like to share with you the words of 11 year old Arkansas ally and advocate Will Phillips, who experienced merciless bullying after he announced he would no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag until all Americans were equal--including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Will Phillips as an 11-year-old activist and student who believes in full equality for all and fights for safe schools. The Phillips family are supporters of Safe Schools Action Network and also help lead efforts in Arkansas for safe schools. The Safe Schools Action Network asked me to share Will's words with you.
When I was four, I used to play on the street with older kids that I thought were my friends, but it soon became apparent that they were not good friends. They constantly taunted me with, "if you want to be our friend, you have to do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this." This went on for about a year, with me barely realizing why I felt so bad when I "played" with "my friends". Then kindergarten came, and everything changed. Once in kindergarten I could choose who I was going to be around seeing as there were many different classrooms, each one with its own separate class, and most importantly, there were teachers constantly watching us in two thirds of the playground. While I wasn't bullied, in that blind third I noticed other kids getting bullied, and it bothered me a lot, and the worst part was, when I tried to stop it I couldn't. I would just be pushed aside by the bullies and told that If I ratted them out I would be framed and accused of hitting the main bully, which the teachers often wholeheartedly bought. This was also the first time I heard someone be called a "faggot".
First grade was my main path into being severely bullied in school. My reading level was abnormally high and I was sent to the hallway to read while other students had class. Sitting outside in the hallway reading made me a better reader and made me the "weird geek who knows everything" in the school. It didn't help that the spot I sat was unseen by the cameras or teachers so passing students could name call, or spit at will. When I got to second grade one student saw my reading level and told everyone else. This made me even more bullied and made me delve even further into the reading world in order to escape the bullying. The cycle continued and by the time I was in 3rd grade I was 3 reading levels higher than anyone else in my grade. This did nothing to enhance my popularity. The bullying continued and at recess, I started to get kicked and pushed for being a nerd. "Fag was used a lot less by this time in favor of "That's so gay!" or "Gaywad". At the end of 3rd grade I figured if I skipped a grade, I would be at the same level academically as my peers and that would help. I was allowed to skip to 5th grade and sadly, though academically challenged for the first time, I was still ahead of my peers in terms of maturity, vocabulary, and academics. This gained me the name "That weird kid WillPhill who talks weird and is really smart. Oh yeah, and he skipped a grade. AKA-WillPhill."
Then came the incident with the Pledge of Allegiance. I refused to stand for the pledge based on the lack of "liberty and justice for all" for the LGBT community. This made me lose any remaining popularity and resulted in severe bullying. Most people assumed I was gay and my new nickname was simply "gaywad". I was pushed in the hallways, kicked on the playground, even passed a death threat note. I was too scared to let anyone know how bad it was. I didn't even want my parents to know how. I just wanted it to go away. So I ignored threats, taunts, and assaults and waited for it to pass. My advice to others is not to follow this path. Ignoring it did not make it better and only encouraged the bullies more. When people say, "Just ignore them." It's really not good advice as it only emboldens the bullies.
I was fortunate that my parents allowed me to homeschool so that I could get the academic challenges I needed as well as the social environment best suited to learning. I wish I could say that I knew the answer to how to deal with bullies or what to do when being bullied but I don't. All I know is that it's really hard and can be really damaging to a person both physically and mentally. All I know is that no one should have to live in fear of their own classmates in a public school that's supposed to be safe for kids and a learning environment.
Safe Schools Action Network is a nationwide grassroots organization committed to empowering all students, educators and communities in building inclusive safe schools. If you're on Twitter, you can help @safeschoolsNOW spread the word about Safe Schools and the 100th Day project by Tweeting "#safeschools" and "#100day" today.