At Daggett Middle School, gay and lesbian students can gather on most Friday mornings before school to talk about their feelings without worrying about being judged.
The welcoming setting was created this school year by members of a club called Gay, Lesbian, Everybody Else, or GLEE.
“They wanted a place where they felt safe,” said Lisa Earley, a seventh-grade social studies teacher and the club’s campus sponsor.
GLEE is among a handful of gay-straight organizations on Fort Worth school campuses that are promoting respect of others. The club exemplifies how acceptance of others can begin on school campuses and has a strong anti-bullying sentiment.
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Experts said ending bullying starts with promoting respect — a simple message groups such as GLEE make a part of campus life.
“People are hateful when they are afraid. They are afraid when they don’t know and understand,” said Kathryn Everest, the Fort Worth school district’s director of guidance and counseling.
Making a difference
Everest said there are about seven Gay-Straight Alliance groups — students who come together to support one another — at Fort Worth district high schools.
“Different is not better or worse, it’s just different,” Everest said, referring to the message these students offer their classmates.
The Fort Worth school district has been working with students to address societal ills such as bullying/cyberbullying, sexting and teen dating violence. Much of the work centers on the district’s “It’s not okay!” initiative, which encourages young people to seek help when they are troubled.
Everest said students told her they see bullying in many aspects of life, including political ads in which candidates target each other and television shows such as Survivor: Blood vs Water. In the latter, families are pitted against each other to win, Everest said.
Everest said efforts to prevent bullying related to sexual orientation are taking place at various campuses. For example, at Stripling Middle School there has been a Day of Pink, a national, anti-bullying social media campaign.
“We have kids all over our county and all over the nation who are doing wonderful things to change the world,” Everest said.
Talking out teen issues
The Daggett GLEE club gives middle school students a place to talk about the pressure of being a teen, plan activities and work with other community organizations.
Earley said middle school can be a difficult time as students become interested in either the opposite or same gender. They question themselves, she said.
“Am I normal? Is this normal?” Earley said students ask.
GLEE members recently visited with Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, who gained national attention three years when he spoke at a council meeting, encouraging gay teens to stay strong because “it gets better.”
Burns said schools are required to help prevent bullying through provisions in Texas House Bill 1942 , which was signed into law in 2011.
Burns said it is good that students can organize for their cause.
“No group of adults came in and formed this club. They formed it on their own,” he said.