For the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, it has been a difficult few months, with nine young lives recently lost to suicide as a result of bullying for their sexual orientation and gender identity.
With the mediaâ€™s spotlight turned to Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after having his sexual encounter with another man posted on Facebook by his roommate, a number of other tragedies have swept across the headlines.
The alarming reality is that this isnâ€™t a new trend or even an increasing one.
As Cory Barrett, the director of Rainbow Alley at The Center, Denverâ€™s GLBT resource and community center, said in a phone interview, gay suicide has always been a problem, with high rates that have persisted over a number of years.
The difference, he said, is the media picked up these stories, primarily because of the hot-button issues of cyber-bullying and discrimination.
But while there has been loss, the recent heightened awareness of this problem has now set in motion the momentum needed to consider reform in school districts.
Contacted by a school board member from the Denver public school system, Barrett has begun work with the school board and One Colorado, an organization centered on fairness and equality for the GLBT community, to look closer at school policy.
The interesting thing, Barrett said, is that it isnâ€™t just about the law.
â€œThe policies and laws are in place,â€ Barrett said. â€œThey just need to be enforced.â€
As Mac Simon, One Coloradoâ€™s Northern Colorado organizer and CSU graduate, said, policy in any industry, from school systems to law enforcement and health care, is only the first of many steps to achieving social change.
â€œIt takes the follow-up,â€ he said. â€œThere are just some really big barriers to get past before we can get there.â€
For the Denver school district, interpretation and uniformity in implementation are the problem, Barrett said, with administrations allowed to choose how strictly they enforce the districtâ€™s policies.
â€œThey all have the same expectations, but there are different interpretations,â€ he said. And in his opinion, that tailoring policy to meet oneâ€™s interests is unacceptable.
Until thereâ€™s uniformity, Barrett said, thereâ€™s little policy change that will eradicate the problem.
But for now, Barrettâ€™s work is focused on reestablishing the GLBT communityâ€™s advisory committee in the schools.
Having lost momentum and died out in past years, the committee is an advisory council that allows dedicated and educated people to determine what changes need to occur in schools, advising administrations on what policies to enforce and how.
Currently, Barrett is working with other advisers to review the bylaws and create objectives for the district in order to help GLBT students to find the resources and assistance they need to feel comfortable in school.
Northern Colorado is also seeing progress, with Simon and One Colorado working to establish things like comprehensive sex education and diversity awareness in schools.
â€œAny time a group with a big rainbow symbol comes in, people start to get freaked out,â€ he said. But that hasnâ€™t stopped One Colorado or other statewide organizations from looking into how they can assist GLBT students.
Working to create comprehensive resource kits for teachers, Simon said, he hopes further awareness and understanding will give them the resources they need in the classroom, bringing bullying to a slow but determined end.
For Malcolm Lazin, the executive director of the Equality Forum, and organization focused on GLBT civil rights, education and awareness, the important thing is to move to a zero-tolerance program in schools.
â€œMost educators on a daily basis take no disciplinary action (when they see bullying occur),â€ he said. â€œTeachers do nothing and principals allow the culture to continue.â€
Now whether this is a failure on the side of faculty or administration, it is essential that schools refuse to tolerate any level of bullying, Lazin said.
And itâ€™s that kind of uniformity that Barrett said he hopes to see being enforced in Denver schools, adding that heâ€™s optimistic change may in fact happen.
â€œIâ€™m encouraged because the need for this didnâ€™t come from the community. The school board and district said that this needed to happen,â€ he said.
â€œIt gives me hope weâ€™ll be able to make a difference.â€
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