Stop Homophobic Bullying in Schools

by Western Justice Center
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Listening to the director during rehearsal
Listening to the director during rehearsal

     This school year we have the largest class we have ever had and we still have a waiting list!   We have a new teaching assistant, Tim, who was in our class several years ago.  He still looks young enough to play a student but can also pull off playing the teacher.  He is a very talented actor and we are glad to have him back!

     As we head for winter break, we are preparing for one more educator training. We are happy to report that it’s our first training for Teach for America!    TFA recruits outstanding college graduates to become teachers in low-income communities for a two year period.  We are thrilled to offer over 100 of these corps members training in preventing and intervening in homopobic bullying!

     Then in January, we will continue to train K-12 teachers from 97 different schools on making their classrooms safe and inclusive for LGBT students. 

     We’ve got an exciting year ahead of us, and we can’t thank you enough for your support!  We hope you stay with us for 2016 and help us make school safer for thousands of students!

The cast answers teachers
The cast answers teachers' questions
Tim rehearsing to play the teacher
Tim rehearsing to play the teacher

We just completed another successful school year helping teachers learn to confront harassment and make class safer for students effected by homphobia.

We trained teachers from more than 50 schools and 99% said they are more likely to notice this form of bias and 98% feel more confident in intervening as a result of the training!

We added a new component this year - in addition to playing characters, four of the cast members who are effected by homophobic bias in real life spoke to the teachers about their experiences in school. This seemed to inspire the teachers to be more decisive in their efforts to make class safer for all their students.   After the presentation, one high school teacher wrote:  "Thanks for opening my eyes. I have always thought that LGBT students would just trust me and tell me if they needed support. I was wrong. Wow, was I wrong. I can see now that I need to be much more overt in creating safety and even more deliberate in being inclusive. Sadly, it makes me wonder how many students I have overlooked who really could have used some support."

Another commented:  "I applaud all of the students, especially those who spoke at the end and shared their own experiences - this was truthfully the best piece of professional development I have ever been part of."

We had a great year and will soon select our next cast and plan for the fall.

Thanks again for making this project possible!

"Stephanie",  "Kyle" harass students before class
"Stephanie", "Kyle" harass students before class
a real teacher confronts the bullies in scene
a real teacher confronts the bullies in scene
Lori gives overview of LGBT experience in school
Lori gives overview of LGBT experience in school

After the holidays, we will be training teachers from 16 different elementary schools, some of them are general ed teachers, some are resource specialists who teach students with special needs…about half are private school teachers. 

Most of them aren’t convinced that they need training on making their classrooms safe for kids who are targeted due to sexual orientation.  They think that’s an issue for the high school teachers.

They are wrong. 

Students who have been bullied and harassed for their perceived sexual orientation and gender expression tell us that it often begins in elementary school…long before they understand their own identity.  They just know that they are different and that difference is somehow considered unacceptable.

Earlier this week, here in California, 12 year old Ronin Shimizu, committed suicide after enduring years of bullying and harassment.  Friends and family describe him as a smart kid who loved art, fashion and being a cheerleader. His supportive parents moved him to three different elementary schools before deciding on home schooling. 

I don’t know exactly what happened at those schools, I don’t know anything about how Ronin identified or whether he had friends who stood by him. I do know that the kind of harassment he endured is not just restricted to middle and high schools and that the elementary teachers are even less prepared to deal with it.

I really don’t have the words to express the mix of sorrow, rage and empathy I feel when I think of Ronin and his family.  I want to do more…we all need to do more.  In these moments I am particularly grateful to you for making it possible for us to train more teachers.  Thank you for making it far more likely that an elementary school teacher will have the observational skills, the committment and the skill to intervene in homophobic bullying.

Links:

the class practices listening skills
the class practices listening skills

We have finished selecting our student-actors and it is our largest class to date!  We also have a waiting list.  We are excited to report that we have a new teaching assistant, a member of our original cast who just graduated from college and is back in town!   

We always begin the year by getting to know each other and by building safety in our own class. Before we begin training teachers, we spend time learning about stereotypes, prejudice and bullying in schools. We talk about our own experience in different schools...experiences of being bullied, harassed or excluded as well as experiences of being a bystander or of being someone who tried to help. 

We explore the concept of a safe and inclusive classroom and discuss the roles teachers and students play in maintaining safety.  We also work on communication skills -especailly listening skills and we teach improvisational acting tecniques and character development. 

We will start training educators in October.  Until then we are building the foundation for another year of working to stop homophobic bullying in schools. Thanks for sticking with us.

celebrating at our favorite California burger spot
celebrating at our favorite California burger spot

The end of the school year means we celebrate having trained so many teachers ; we say goodbye to our current cast and then we start auditions for the 2014/2015 cast.  

This is always a bittersweet time. Eight of our cast members graduated this month and are moving off into the world of college and work. It's always hard to watch them go.

 Then we held auditions and have a record number of applicants.   Next, we have to make some tough decisions!

Thanks again for supporting us through another successful school year making schools safer for LGBT students. We will continue to work on casting, scripts and calendaring over the summer.  We will keep you updated on our plans for the fall. 

graduation day
graduation day
training teachers makes us hungry
training teachers makes us hungry
 

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Organization Information

Western Justice Center

Location: Pasadena, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.westernjustice.org
Project Leader:
Lori Nelson
Executive Director
Pasadena, CA United States

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