September 1, 2011
>Community Initiatives Intern Puts Bullying and Feelings of Exclusion Into Simple, Relatable Terms
>By Community Initiatives Intern Ella P.
I think we can pretty much all agree that wearing a paper bag as a hat to school is extremely uncool. But here’s the thing: how do we all know that? My parents have given me many lectures in my sixteen years of life, but not once did they sit me down and preach solemnly, “Now Ella, you must always remember that paper-bag-hats are a disgrace to this family.” No one (not my friends, not my family) has ever told me anything about this form of headgear, yet I am still 100% sure that it is not okay. I bet you are 100% sure too. Somehow, this message has spread across communities without its members saying a word.
From the moment we are born, we are inundated with messages, whether we are conscious of it or not. When we put all of these things together, that’s what forms our perceptions of society and or notions of what is socially acceptable. Maybe a few months ago, I noted the way that my friends rolled their eyes at a girl whose leopard-suspenders outfit was a bit out of the ordinary. Maybe I remember laughing at the joke about that boy’s fedora. It’s little moments like these that inform our views about things such as paper bag hats. These small instances shape our understandings of how society feels about certain things.
Time to leave the hats behind. Here is my point: Even our tiniest actions send messages to other people, whether or not we intend for them to. The sad part is that many of these actions and messages make members of the LGBT community feel unwelcome or unsafe. There’s name-calling and bullying and harassment, whose effects we’ve seen in too many tragedies in this past year. But even smaller things can contribute to a social atmosphere. Little comments like “that’s so gay” or “no homo,” though often unintentionally, link homosexuality with something negative. Seemingly harmless jokes or eye rolls have more power than we realize.
Can you remember a time when you felt unwelcome in a group of people? I certainly can. Those memories—filled with anxiety, fear, and perhaps depression—stick with you. Frankly, it feels awful. What I dream of, and what GLSEN dreams of too, is a world where everyone can be free to be themselves. I don’t know if that can ever be fully achieved, but it’s important to take steps towards this goal to allow everyone to live happier and more fulfilling lives.
Through education and awareness, GLSEN hopes to make our differences uniting, not divisive, and to create a safer environment for everyone.