The Safe Schools Coalition Blog: Open Letter to Oprah

Read this great post below by Beth Reis – [retired now] Public Health Educator and Co-Chair of the Safe Schools Coalition on May 11, 2009: The Safe Schools Coalition Blog: Open Letter to Oprah – which is not maintained now. 
Thanks, Beth!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Open Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

First, thank you so much for your recent show that featured the mothers of 11-year old suicide victims Carl Hoover-Walker and Jaheem Herrera . You are wonderful for launching this conversation about the devastating consequences of bullying and what we can do about it.

That said, I was really disappointed that, despite both boys having found anti-gay bullying so gut-wrenching, your professional guests addressed bullying without ever talking about the URGENT importance of addressing homophobia and prejudice through EDUCATION. The best bullying programs and the best psychologists working one-on-one with bullied kids won’t put an end to anti-gay bullying. Until we’re willing to have teachers talk about gay people respectfully, kids will use homophobia as the weapon that our silence puts in their hands.

What else do I wish you would do?
1. Check out www.safeschoolscoalition.org.
2. Have someone on the show to talk about the work of the Safe Schools Coalition.
3. Invite Kim Westheimer to talk about the Human Rights Campaign’s wonderful Welcoming Schools project.
4. Have Debra Chasnoff of Groundspark talk about their amazing film-based curricula.
5. Invite Stephanie Brill of Gender Spectrum to talk about her unbelievable work with schools.
6. Invite the folks from the Committee for Children, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League to talk specifically about how their bullying programs address bias-based bullying, and anti-LGBT bullying in particular.
7. Ask principals and curriculum directors to put aside preparing children for high stakes testing just one week every year and focus for that week on prejudice reduction
~ a day about religious diversity and, at older grades, prejudice against the religious (of various faiths) and prejudice against the unchurched;
~ a day about immigration, refugees and, at older grades, about xenophobia and its costs all over the world;
~ a day about race and the history of racism and about white privilege and what it means to be an ally (actually that would be part of each of the 5 days);
~ a day about sexual diversity — about families with lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents/guardians, about the contributions of LGBT people and, at older grades about homophobia and transphobia and the history of anti-LGBT brutality; and
~ a day about women who’ve changed the world and, in later grades about misogyny and violence against women and what some men and women are doing to change that.

If schools devoted just one week early in the year, every single year starting in elementary school, it could change climates dramatically. In combination with good anti-bullying programs, it could save the lives of the Carls and Jaheems, and the Gwen Araujos and Matthew Shepards too.

It is time schools worked to reduce the PREJUDICES that underly the most horrific bullying and not just the bullying (the symptom). Please take the lead on this, Oprah. Nobody has a voice like you do.

Beth Reis
Public Health Educator and Co-Chair of the Safe Schools Coalition
10501 Meridian Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98133
206-296-4970

P.S. I hope your staffers watch the blogosphere, Oprah, because I couldn’t find a place on your web site to say more than 180 characters and I couldn’t figure out how to do this in that much space.
Posted by Beth Reis at 10:05 AM
Labels: bullying, education, homophobia, prejudice, schools, suicide, transphobia

1 comment:

Gabi Clayton
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 12:44:00 PM PDT

Thank you, Beth. You wrote about this beautifully. I posted a link to it on the FUAH blog and asked people to read it and share their own thoughts here.

I watched the Oprah show and in one respect it was better than I had anticipated based on some things I read online from people who had been at the taping. None of the comments I read on the Oprah website before I saw the show mentioned hardly anything about sexual orientation being a part of the bullying that lead to those two beautiful children’s suicides. So when I saw the actual show I was glad that it was brought up. And while I was cringing at how early Carl and Jaheem’s moms were sharing their pain, I was amazed at how much they were able to share and thought that early part of the show they were in was handled pretty well.

Then Oprah said, “Today begins a national conversation on bullying” during the show slighted the work of all those who have been doing the work for years. It is not the beginning of the conversation. We don’t start here because much has been learned and shared and done that is valuable.

I was disheartened by message of I heard that schools can’t change it and that it is up to students to not be victims – to be strong and assertive or aggressive and loud and get through it. That seemed to me to let schools are off the hook and I don’t think that is okay.

It triggered an old memory of mine of a doctor who told me that it was too bad that Bill hadn’t been taught self defense – such as karate. The message was that if Bill had fought back then maybe he would not have felt like a victim when he was assaulted in a hate crime based on his sexual orientation – and maybe then he would not have committed suicide.

That attitude is based on an acceptance of violence as something customary that students have to prepare for in order to survive.

It also brought up a more recent memory of a school principal who I heard tell his students that he and his staff were not able to bring about the change in the school culture – that the youths are the ones who can change the culture of violence in the school. While I completely agree that young people can make change happen, they can’t do it by themselves in a school setting because they do not have the power that the adults have. So I think he left out a critical piece – that he is standing with those students and for them – and that he will do and make sure what needs to be done is done to make the school truly safe.

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