Prince Gomolvilas

A Sixth Grader Is Being Harassed (or Is He?): What Would You Do?

Filed By Prince Gomolvilas | February 07, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: ABC, bullying, John Quinones, television, What Would You Do

I can't decide whether ABC's What Would You Do? is just another trashy hidden-camera programThumbnail image for quitting_kid.jpg or a revealing exploration of modern day ethical issues. Whatever it is, I'm addicted to it. John Quinones goes around setting up horrible situations - locking a (fake) baby alone in a hot car; having teenage boys hurl insults at an obese woman; etc. - to see how strangers will react and to see if and how they will handle the typically upsetting matter at hand.

Well, guess what? It's time to bring What Would You Do? to Bilerico - with a real-life incident that happened to a blogger friend of mine. The situation is not nearly as forcefully provocative as the ABC show, but it does bring up a number of questions that aren't easily answered in the split second that my friend had to react.

After dropping her kids off at school, she passed by a sixth-grade boy she's known since he was in elementary school. She asked him how he was.

He responded, in front of all the other boys standing nearby:"Hello, Mrs. Larsen. Well, actually I'm not so good today, because now all the kids say I'm gay."

(Actually, this thought crossed my mind a few years ago, which is probably one reason why I liked him so much. Unfortunately, or not, I happen to think about things like this way too much anyway. So of all people for him to share this with, I was, needless to say, an ironic choice.)

My immediate response to this unexpected comment was, "Oh, well! Project Runway is one of my favorite shows!" And then I whispered, "Besides, there's nothing wrong with being gay."

He blushed and smiled, but it was slightly awkward. Especially with the other kids looking on, speechless, during this bizarre moment of TMI on an otherwise ordinary morning.

And, because I'm "a worrier," I worried about my answer to him as I walked away.

She later approached a school guidance counselor about it and wrestled with whether or not she said the right thing. She wondered if she should've been more indignant at the time, pointing out that he was being harassed and that it was inappropriate. Read her entire account here.

I responded in her comments section:

I actually think your gut reaction, your first reaction, was the most appropriate one. You affirmed that being gay was okay, and you inadvertently disempowered the use of the word "gay" as an insult and instead pushed its normalcy. I think your hindsight thought to equate being called "gay" as harassment treads tricky ground. I don't think you want to demonize the word "gay," but then again when kids are clearly using it as an insult something must be done about it. Approaching the counselor was a good idea, but there clearly needs to be some additional diversity, sensitivity, and bullying training and presentations at the school.

I know there are many unanswered questions here. Why exactly were the other kids saying he was gay? Were the other kids actually bullying him? Were the other kids perhaps using the word "gay" matter-of-factly and this boy was being overly sensitive? This story is still unfolding.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Or, shall I dare ask, what would you do?

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There is an anonymous bigot commenter here whose comments are a great, literate distillation of the RIGHTeous gay-is-bad meme. The other commenters do a good job of deconstructing his arguments.

We need to help the 'James Watsons' in deconstructing these 'arguments'. It doesn't stop the pain, doesn't stop the insults. It's like the story of the beach covered with tens of thousands of beached starfish, and the boy throwing them back one by one. A man says, "There are too many of them, you can't make a difference." The boy chucks another starfish back into the surf, and says, "I just did, to that starfish."

I think it would depend on the kid, and how well I knew him or her. If it was someone I knew I hope I would respond somewhat like the woman in the story - with kindness and authenticity. Something like, you know a lot of really cool people are gay. (of course I don't think I know any that would be in a 6th grader's orbit) I guess I'd then ask if he wanted to talk to anyone.

If I didn't know the kid i think I'd just ask if he felt safe to walk the rest of the way to school or home. I'd then ask if there was an adult at school he felt comfortable talking to about this.

I own a private music school and work with a lot of kids and quite a few of them come out to me and they and their parents often come to me to talk.
Friday As luck would have it when one of my 13 year olds came in yesterday the kid two lesson in front of him wasn't here which left us in an empty studio. I went in to work on something and left him to hang out by himself a few min later when I went back in he was crying and shaking and basically melting down. The reason was that this rumor was going around about him and his girlfriend broke up with him over it and his older brother called him a homo and yada yada yada. He and I talked through things and when his mom came in I told her that he was having a bad day and that he really wanted to talk to her.
I think that the first response was great. We have a tendency to try and rethink how we should have handled a situation with a kid but I think that the initial honesty or that response gives it more value than a response that may have been more prepared.
As a side note his mother is prepared for this possible eventuality and wants him to feel that he can talk to me so she is very involved in all of this.

Hm. Usually when a kid is getting picked on my first instinct is to tell the bullies that they're doing a good job, but I think that would be different in the case of a gay kid.

Wait, did I just say that aloud?