Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater discussion panel focuses on eliminating the bullying of gay students

CLEARWATER — Bullying of gay and lesbian students occurs throughout Pinellas County schools, but is especially bad at the middle school level, said participants in a Saturday panel discussion on gay bullying. And some school employees, parents and churches are only making the situation worse, they said.

One upset audience member, who identified himself only as a Pinellas school bus driver, spoke emotionally about vicious bullying he witnessed while transporting middle school students on his bus. And when he complained to the school district about the antigay remarks and gestures, he said he wasn't supported by his supervisor.

That story and others were painfully familiar to some of the 40 or so people who attended the discussion at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. It was sponsored by the regional chapter of Lutherans Concerned, a nonprofit that promotes justice for all, including lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender individuals.

"The impetus behind this panel was the death of seven teens by suicide in the last six to eight months throughout the country," said Steve Miller, president of the regional chapter. "One young man took his life after his sexual orientation was exposed online."

The discussion was led by three professionals who have worked with young victims of gay bullying: Shelbi Day, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union Tampa branch; Steve Kornell, a St. Petersburg City Council member and Pinellas schools social worker; and the Rev. Buz Van Horne, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg.

There are laws and policies in place designed to prevent bullying of students, panelists said.

"There is an antibullying law for schools," Day said. "It defines bullying as the use of threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior of various types."

Students also are protected by law against bullying by teachers, she said.

"It is never okay for a teacher to make antigay jokes or mock a student's behavior," she said.

Each school also is required by law to enact its own policy against bullying and harassing.

That law doesn't always work, though, said Kornell, a social worker for Jamerson Elementary and Boca Ciega High schools.

"Putting policy in place is only 50 percent," he said. "The other 50 percent is making sure teachers and staff are enforcing policy, and that isn't always happening."

Day said parents may be a big part of the problem.

"Many kids can't go home and talk to their parents," she said. "One parent I dealt with promised me he would beat the gayness out of his child."

Van Horne questioned the wisdom of some churches that are openly antigay and encourage others to punish gay youth or try to change them. "Reparation therapy" is a technique some use to try to convince young men and women they can be "cured of their gayness." That approach can be devastating for a young teen, Van Horne said.

However, there are some hopeful developments, according to the panelists.

Kornell, the first openly gay person elected to office in St. Petersburg, said the creation of gay-straight alliances in most local high schools has helped strengthen the self-esteem of gay youths and diminish bullying. The alliances, which are initiated by students, provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBT youth. One problem is that it can be difficult to find faculty sponsors for the groups.

"Teachers, either gay or straight, sometimes don't feel comfortable with this group," Day said.

But Kornell said teachers and principals in Pinellas County are more often supportive than not.

Van Horne mentioned a new program that is proving effective: the It Gets Better project, which can be seen in a YouTube video. Created in 2010 by syndicated author Dan Savage and his partner, It Gets Better aims to inspire hope in gay youths to get past bullying.

In March, the book version of the project was released. The title tells a hopeful story for gay and lesbian youth: It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living.

Clearwater discussion panel focuses on eliminating the bullying of gay students 04/03/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 11:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida Insiders: The state parties are dying; 'I heard someone long for the leadership of Jim Greer'

    Blogs

    For all the attention on Florida Democratic Chairman Stephen Bittel's bone headed gaffe this week, the diminished state of the once mighty Florida GOP today compared to even a few years ago is arguably more striking than the condition of the long-suffering Florida Democratic Party. A decade ago, no one would have …

    Florida Insider Poll
  2. Florida Democrats surging with grassroots enthusiasm, but 2018 reality is grim

    State Roundup

    After Donald Trump's election, so many people started showing up at monthly Pinellas County Democratic Party meetings, the group had to start forking out more money for a bigger room.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses Florida Democrats at the Leadership Blue Gala on June 17 in Hollywood, Fla. (Photo by Carol Porter)
  3. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  4. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]