Billy Lucas was a 15-year-old freshman who had spent less than a month at Greensburg High School in Indiana, but that was long enough to get the message that he wasn’t welcome.  He wasn’t welcome because his peers perceived him to be gay.  The pain of this bullying was enough to make him feel like he had only one option and so he hanged himself.  His mother found her son, hanging, in their barn.  On Billy’s Facebook memorial page, he’s remembered with comments like, “Everyone made fun of him.”

I write about Billy Lucas – and I could be writing about over a dozen other teens who recently killed themselves for similar reason – because I spent two hour yesterday and the corner of Mowry Ave. and Fremont Blvd., in Fremont, holding a sign with his name, age, and picture.  I was there with some 20 to 30 other people, each of us holding signs or candles, asking people to be aware of tragedy of teen-aged suicides and the importance of ending bullying.

As I stood there, watching cars drive by, I wondered about what impact we were having.  Were the parents who drove by with kids in their cars using this as a “teachable moment,” an opportunity to talk with their kids about the damage bullying can cause, giving them the opportunity to open up about any bullying they are experiencing, or empowering them to stand up for the kids that get picked on?

Friends keep posting videos on their Facebook pages from Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project,” videos that fill me with hope, videos with messages that LGBT kids need to hear, like this one.

And yet, as important as it is to get this message – that it gets better – to the kids who right now are in crisis, and how important it is that they get help (like connecting with the Trevor Project, 866-488-7386), it is at least equally important that we work to end bullying.

Bullying can take many forms.  It can include:

  • Exclusion – starting rumors, telling others not to be friends with someone, or other actions that would cause someone to be without friends.  (This can happen as cyber-bullying, too, through email, social networking sites, or texting.)
  • Harassment – racial, ethnic, or sexual name-calling or other modes of harassment.
  • Teasing – name-calling, insulting, or other behavior that hurt others’ feelings or make them feel bad about themselves.
  • Physical Bullying – pushing, slapping, grabbing, flicking, poking, pinching, tripping, or other violations of personal space.
  • Severe Physical Bullying – punching, kicking, and similar behavior that could result in injury to others.
  • Threat of serious violence – threats of using a weapon, etc.  [Note, in the case of these last two, we are probably talking about criminal offenses (assault, battery, or threats of the same) and they should be reported to the police.]

So, what do we do?

Well, I suggest that we start by examining and changing our own behavior.  How have we participated in any of these forms of bullying?  I know that I find exclusion to be the form I am most likely to participate in.

Then we need to look at the social institutions we are part of – our workplaces, our faith communities, our social networks – and work to eradicate bullying there.

Next, we need to stand up to bullying when we witness it.  Call it what it is and make it clear that the behavior is not acceptable.

And finally, we need to engage our political leaders.  We need to connect with school boards and state legislatures to see that anti-bullying policies and legislation are adopted and enforced.  And we need to connect with our congress members and the President to make sure that our foreign policy is not based on bullying.

We have work to do, so let’s get to work.