Recently the print and broadcast media has finally taken notice of the issue of young people being bullied because they are, or merely perceived to be, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender (GLBT). The existence of such mistreatment is nothing new; it has been occurring forever. What is new is that the issue is getting attention. There has also been an increase in coverage of young people committing suicide in response to on-going abuse by their peers, as well as the lack of meaningful action by school administers and other authority figures. GLBT kids are told to hang in there, things will get better, and people will eventually change their minds. All of which is true, but misses the point. I would never tell a child being sexually molested at home, don't worry, things will be better when you get older and can get out to the house and away from the offender. The victim's behavior isn't the problem-the offender's behavior is the problem. On the issue of domestic violence most people have stopped asking, why does the victim stay with the perpetrator, and begun to why does the perpetrator think this behavior is acceptable, and what can be done to stop it? We need a similar paradigm shift in regards to the verbal and physical abuse suffered by GLBT people.
Since it seems unlikely that in the near future the widespread abuse of GLBT students will disappear, what is a young person to do? Over many years my clients and I have come up with a number of strategies for responding to verbal bullying. There is no one right response for all situations, therefore I always recommend becoming familiar with all of them so as to have the greatest number of options.
Be Powerfully Silent
Bullies attack people in order to get a reaction, therefore refusing to give them the type of response they are seeking is a way of standing up to them. By being silence I don't mean looking at the floor in humiliation, but rather making full eye contact with the bully while remaining silent, thereby sending the message to the bully and to other people witnessing the event, "Your remarks aren't worthy of a verbal response."
For most people, the kind of insulting remarks about African-Americans that used to be common are no longer acceptable, but we have not yet reached that point when it comes to insulting remarks concerning GLBT persons. GLBT students and their allies can send the message that name-calling is unacceptable by expressing surprise that there is still someone who would make such ignorant and hurtful remarks.
"Wow, what century are we in? I thought that kind of thinking died out during the last century, along with racism and sexism."
"Wow, that certainly was a rude thing to say."
"How unfortunate that hatred and prejudice continues to exist in some people's minds."
On the television program, Colombo , the main character was a seemingly inept police detective that showed up to crime scenes in a rumpled trench coat with the stub of a cigar. He would convince suspects that he was completely incompetent by playing dumb, but then would solve the case, usually by asking one last question as he made for the door. He wasn't afraid to appear as if he were a bungling idiot because he knew he wasn't. GLBT students can utilize this same technique in response to bullies-when insulted play dumb.
"I don't understand what you mean; I'm not familiar with this term f_ggot ."
"I'm not clear how you are trying to help me with that statement."
"Would you say that more slowly, I'm not sure I heard you correctly?"