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.