Bullying and Homophobia

Addressing Identity-Based Attacks While Respecting Different Beliefs

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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Note: Bullying from homophobia must be stopped! Kidpower is committed to working together to create cultures of caring, respect, and safety for everyone, everywhere. Our Bullying Solutions book describes how adults can address bullying due to prejudice. bullying-ebook-260x300

According to Dan Savage, advice columnist celebrity and co-founder of the It Gets Better Project, even though 50% of bullying is about anti-gay issues, only 5 of the 67 bullying prevention programs represented at the 2010 White House Conference on Bullying had been addressing homophobia as a bullying issue. Thanks to the stand taken by the President and the conference itself, this is likely to change.

If Kidpower had been at the conference, there would have been 6 programs, as we do address anti- LGBT bullying, and have since we began in 1989. Our vision is to create cultures of caring, respect and safety for all, and we are deeply committed to providing service to everyone, everywhere, especially individuals and groups that are at high risk for bullying, abuse and assault.

Many adults are not sure how to address bullying when the subject is about issues where people in their school or organization might disagree. In Kidpower, we work with people from all walks of life and have to agree to disagree about many issues. Our common ground is that we share a commitment to teaching children, teens, and adults how to use their power to stay emotionally and physically safe.

While individuals in our organization can have potentially conflicting cultural, religious, and political beliefs, we are united in agreeing that all people deserve the information and skills to protect themselves from bullying in all of its forms, as well as knowing how to advocate for themselves and others, and that identity-related bullying is just as dangerous and wrong as other forms of bullying.

On an organizational level, we manage this complex position by having an inclusive policy that includes a strong boundary. One of our values as stated on our website is: Inclusive. We welcome people of any age, culture, religion, race, gender, political belief, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity, marital status, any kind of disability, or level of income who share our commitment to integrity and safety for everyone and who can join us in upholding our values.

We work with thousands of children, teens and adults each year and are saddened by the pervasiveness of intense bullying at all ages. We worry about how often children and teens (and also adults) feel alone and isolated due to bullying or harassment. We also have the privilege of working with courageous individuals, families, schools, organizations, and communities, often holding widely different beliefs, that are taking an active stand each and every day to help combat bullying and create places of safety, caring and respect for everyone.

In our programs, we focus on teaching simple effective skills such as how to: persist in getting help when you have a problem; de-escalate confrontations; use target denial to avoid potentially dangerous situations; advocate for yourself and others, and use self-defense techniques in emergency situations.

We have found that many people find it difficult to speak up against identity-related bullying because this is often seen as a socially-acceptable way of teasing or joking. Children, teens, and even adults can also be afraid of speaking up because they fear possible repercussions. We work with students to help them practice different ways they can advocate for someone who is being bullied – everything from saying outright “That joke sounds prejudiced to me. I don’t think it’s funny!” to finding a helpful adult in a position of authority to making an anonymous report to talking to the person being bullied later in private and letting him or her know how sorry they are.

We do not teach a separate curriculum about homophobia. We do not teach a separate curriculum about racism or sexism either. We do not offer a separate curriculum about attacks related to physical or mental ability. We do not offer separate curriculum about attacks related to culture, religion, ethnicity, educational choices, nor do we offer a separate curriculum about attacks related to body size or shape.

We believe that all types of bullying and harassment are unsafe and unacceptable. We believe teasing that perpetuates prejudice is also unsafe, even if the people involved say they are okay with it. While the ‘-isms’ are different, attacks for these reasons are similar in that they are attacks based on identity. Staying centered, acting wisely, and getting to safety in the face of any one of these attacks requires the same skill set.

In our teen and adult workshops, we use each of these identity-related examples along with other forms of insults or threats to show students how to protect themselves in the face of different kinds of verbal attacks. If these issues come up with younger children, we give them tools for staying safe and getting help using age-appropriate examples.

Our workshops are tailored to the needs of the specific group we are serving in the moment, and we ensure that our students have the opportunity to practice their safety skills using examples relevant to their own lives.

As adults, our job is to ensure the emotional and physical safety of all of the young people in our care, no matter what our personal beliefs might be. We cannot take a strong stand against bullying and other kinds of violence by trying to stop some kinds of attacks and insults and ignoring others. Identity-based attacks including teasing, bullying, and harassment are dangerous. As adults, we must take responsibility for stopping this behavior.

See our LGBTQ page to learn more about how Kidpower helps people of all ages and abilities to protect themselves from hate-based or bias-based emotional and physical assaults.

— Irene van der Zande is the Executive Director and Founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International and author of the recently-released Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, which has a foreword by Gavin de Becker, best-selling author of The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift and puts Kidpower’s 23+ years of expertise at your fingertips. Her book, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe is used by many families, schools, and youth organizations for their own anti-bullying programs.

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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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