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Eleven-Year-Old Called Gay
Q: My eleven-year-old son is in sixth grade. He has seemed very lonely for some time now, and never wants to go outside and play. We had a talk today and he told me that "all the kids at school" make fun of him when he walks down the hall. They are calling him "gay." He was very upset and cried for some time. He is a gentle boy, very kindhearted, and some of his mannerisms could be interpreted as feminine. He is in the gifted program at school and makes good grades, so there are no problems there. I want to help him deal with the taunts, but I don't know how. Any advice?
A: My heart aches every time I hear such a story. What used to be unheard of in elementary school is now common practice -- taunting and bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Your son does not have to deal alone with these taunts. What he is enduring is sexual harassment and there are several things you can do for him and the many other students who are probably being harassed at the school.
I suggest you first contact the school counselor and advise him or her of what is going on. Have your son present. Discuss how the school proposes to handle the situation. Ask for a copy of the school's policy on sexual harassment. (The school has a legal obligation to have one.) The policy should outline the process for handling complaints. Follow whatever the process is.
I expect your son is too beaten down at the present time to do this, but his first legal step is to calmly tell the children who are teasing him to "Stop calling me . . . " Of course they will not. He should keep track of who the perpetrator is, when and where, and exactly what is said. Then the very next time it happens he should report to the counselor. The counselor or assistant principal in charge of discipline should handle it from there. In place of his telling the harasser to stop by himself, your son could tell him or her in front of the counselor. I have even read notes from the victim to the student who is doing the taunting. The school should then follow its discipline process, which should include filing harassment charges if nothing else works.
If the school doesn't do anything about this situation, I encourage you to file harassment charges yourself with the school resource officer or the local police. Take in as much detail as possible. Your son has a right to a safe and non-hostile educational environment and the school has the obligation to provide it. He's very lucky to have a mom who cares.
You may also want to check on what your son's school is doing in the way of anti-violence and anti-bullying programs.
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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.