Phil Reese

100 Days of School, 100 Days of Bullying

Filed By Phil Reese | February 04, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 100 days, bullying, homophobic behavior, LGBT, middle school, safe schools, Will Phillips

Today is the 100th day of school for most school districts, and will be marked with celebrations and activities marking 100 days of science, math, reading, social studies and the arts in elementary and middle schools throughout the country.willphillips.jpg Likewise, many high schools will have pep assemblies marking 100 days of football games, dances, aborted chemistry demos that didn't go quite as planned, burnt (but still edible) consumer science cooking projects and hard-earned B minuses on Trigonometry exams.

For many American kids, however, it also marks 100 days of terror, isolation, emotional, and even physical abuse - abuse that can lead to depression, the desire to drop out of school, and even thoughts or plans of suicide. Today marks 100 days of bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity for thousands of American kids.

Even when I was a gay teacher it never really hit me, as we celebrated the 100th day in my school district every year, what that meant for the kids who were getting bullied. I can't imagine waking up 100 days in a row and wishing the sun had just stayed down. The Safe Schools Action Network is trying to use this annual celebration to call attention to the terrible treatment that some kids get in our school systems today.

Not every victim of anti-gay bullying, however, is gay. Bellow the fold, I would like to share with you the words of 11 year old Arkansas ally and advocate Will Phillips, who experienced merciless bullying after he announced he would no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag until all Americans were equal--including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Will Phillips as an 11-year-old activist and student who believes in full equality for all and fights for safe schools. The Phillips family are supporters of Safe Schools Action Network and also help lead efforts in Arkansas for safe schools. The Safe Schools Action Network asked me to share Will's words with you.

When I was four, I used to play on the street with older kids that I thought were my friends, but it soon became apparent that they were not good friends. They constantly taunted me with, "if you want to be our friend, you have to do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this." This went on for about a year, with me barely realizing why I felt so bad when I "played" with "my friends". Then kindergarten came, and everything changed. Once in kindergarten I could choose who I was going to be around seeing as there were many different classrooms, each one with its own separate class, and most importantly, there were teachers constantly watching us in two thirds of the playground. While I wasn't bullied, in that blind third I noticed other kids getting bullied, and it bothered me a lot, and the worst part was, when I tried to stop it I couldn't. I would just be pushed aside by the bullies and told that If I ratted them out I would be framed and accused of hitting the main bully, which the teachers often wholeheartedly bought. This was also the first time I heard someone be called a "faggot".

First grade was my main path into being severely bullied in school. My reading level was abnormally high and I was sent to the hallway to read while other students had class. Sitting outside in the hallway reading made me a better reader and made me the "weird geek who knows everything" in the school. It didn't help that the spot I sat was unseen by the cameras or teachers so passing students could name call, or spit at will. When I got to second grade one student saw my reading level and told everyone else. This made me even more bullied and made me delve even further into the reading world in order to escape the bullying. The cycle continued and by the time I was in 3rd grade I was 3 reading levels higher than anyone else in my grade. This did nothing to enhance my popularity. The bullying continued and at recess, I started to get kicked and pushed for being a nerd. "Fag was used a lot less by this time in favor of "That's so gay!" or "Gaywad". At the end of 3rd grade I figured if I skipped a grade, I would be at the same level academically as my peers and that would help. I was allowed to skip to 5th grade and sadly, though academically challenged for the first time, I was still ahead of my peers in terms of maturity, vocabulary, and academics. This gained me the name "That weird kid WillPhill who talks weird and is really smart. Oh yeah, and he skipped a grade. AKA-WillPhill."

Then came the incident with the Pledge of Allegiance. I refused to stand for the pledge based on the lack of "liberty and justice for all" for the LGBT community. This made me lose any remaining popularity and resulted in severe bullying. Most people assumed I was gay and my new nickname was simply "gaywad". I was pushed in the hallways, kicked on the playground, even passed a death threat note. I was too scared to let anyone know how bad it was. I didn't even want my parents to know how. I just wanted it to go away. So I ignored threats, taunts, and assaults and waited for it to pass. My advice to others is not to follow this path. Ignoring it did not make it better and only encouraged the bullies more. When people say, "Just ignore them." It's really not good advice as it only emboldens the bullies.

I was fortunate that my parents allowed me to homeschool so that I could get the academic challenges I needed as well as the social environment best suited to learning. I wish I could say that I knew the answer to how to deal with bullies or what to do when being bullied but I don't. All I know is that it's really hard and can be really damaging to a person both physically and mentally. All I know is that no one should have to live in fear of their own classmates in a public school that's supposed to be safe for kids and a learning environment.

Safe Schools Action Network is a nationwide grassroots organization committed to empowering all students, educators and communities in building inclusive safe schools. If you're on Twitter, you can help @safeschoolsNOW spread the word about Safe Schools and the 100th Day project by Tweeting "#safeschools" and "#100day" today.

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100 days in the trenches with no report of relief.
No indication that anything is working.
The opposition more vocal than ever.
That I’m a target, just a target in some war I never wanted to be in.
Just plod forward with no end in sight.
100 days down, another 80 to go…maybe longer if summer school is a must.

Hide from the bullies in the herd of other sheep (I mean children) walking in.
Wear drab colors so I’m less noticeable.
Hide a 5 subject notebook under my shirt so if I do get hit in the gut I don’t puke.
Never take the same way to or from school.
Don’t be predictable, never leave home the same time.
At lunch hide in the library if I can telling the teachers that I’m working on a book report but if I can’t I find a table that’s not popular and then push all of the chairs to the surrounding tables to discourage others from sitting with me. The corner table is best, I can see everyone coming towards me.
At the last bell, go directly to the library and stay there for a half hour or so.
Most bullies won’t wait after school to beat me up.
But, keep an eye on the football and wrestling teams practice times.
I learned that one the hard way.
Walking home, go fast. Don’t take the same way you talked to school. If someone calls you, turn away and walk faster or run. It’s never good…

Because in the no-mans-land between home and the school there are no rules. Children carry knives and guns but can kill you just as easily with a kick to the head or just sitting on your chest suffocating you.

Adults, don’t kid yourself. For far too many of us we grew up living in abusive homes and going to schools that were at best indifferent or worse, complicit in acts of harassment or even assault.
For some of the kids, it’s a 100 days at war with no end in sight.
No sign of relief.
There are no medals, no citations of bravery, there should be.
There’s really only survival.

And, that’s wrong, so totally wrong to think of childhood as nothing more or less than war.
But for me, it was.
I survived.

Powerful and gorgeous. Thank you.

Lordy, can I relate. I too entered first grade reading at the eighth grade level. And I was one of the two smallest in our class and I was bullied and abused at home. Worst, I was one of those boys who would rather hang out with the girls. Especially with my girlfriend whom I was going to grow up and marry and have her children.(I guess I was aware of being a Lesbian before I even thought of trans).

There was one big difference though and it saved me in some ways. My self image was terrible an only through my reading did I have any self esteem. I felt as if I were a totally unlovable piece of sh** but I was ANGRY. From about fourth grade on, very few bullies ever bothered me more than once. I had become a berserker. I not only hurt them but deliberately set out to injure them and if I lost today, I was back tomorrow. (I think some of those bullies eventually took a whuppin just to get it over with)

Was I proud of being a vicious little thug? NO! After I won, I would go and hide somewhere and cry my little heart out. I truly hated myself for being such a thug but I was scared to death to not fight back and I truly didn't understand why all of those bullies, from my father on singled me out.

Childhood and adolescence were mostly horrible. My name wasn't "Sue" but much of the rest fit and I hated it. Of course, I just wasn't getting it. Small town. Rigid fundamentalist Irish-Catholic family (my father actually petitioned the Archbishop for an exorcism. Duh) And I just wanted to read and hang out with my girlfriends and later go to ballet classes in Philly and I was and am now 5'3" , 120 lbs and had an androgynous sense of style. Of course I had a target on my back but I didn't realize it then, I was just me and just hurting.

It is funny. Most small towns have as part of their history a legendary "bad ass" in each generation. My younger brothers who still live there tell me that for our generation I am it. Weird.

Well, six years of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, first transition, seven plus years of therapy, marrying x4, finally raising my son and step-son with a woman who always wanted a wife, a wonderful career, final transition in 1997 and life as an activist, second wave Lesbian all brought healing and much joy. Finally, I am content, I have a place in this world. It does get better.