Last week, I was browsing NPR’s site and came across Ellen DeGeneres’ YouTube video on bullying. She talked about how five teens across the U.S. committed suicide in what are being called ‘GLBT related deaths’-and these were only the one’s that were reported about in the news. Tyler Clementi, 18, from Rutgers University, Seth Walsh, 13, from California, Asher Brown, 13, from Houston, Billy Lucas, 15 from Indiana, and Raymond Chase, 19, from Johnson & Wales University. Her video was clearly a call to action, which got me thinking does this have to do with libraries or librarians?
Michael Cart, who is speaking at the YA Lit Symposium on Beyond Stonewall, agreed to answer a few questions to help put this in perspective.
What can we make of what we are hearing about in the news regarding teens these ‘GLBT related’ deaths?
MC: Suicide is not a new phenomenon among GLBT youth. According to the Trevor Project suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and GLBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. More than a third of GLBT teens have attempted suicide, while nearly half of transgender youth have seriously thought about taking their own life and one quarter have actually made the attempt. Much of this self-inflicted violence has been due to bullying, verbal harassment, and casual physical violence (hitting, pushing into lockers, etc.).
Bullying of course is nothing new to teens and is not just limited to GLBT teens. What are some of the ways that it is different now than when we grew up?
MC: What is new is the Internet factor that makes cyberbullying so commonplace now. There is a great deal of information about this; C. J. Bott has written widely about the subject (see her books â€The Bully in the Book and in the Classroomâ€ and â€œMore Bullies in More Booksâ€). The other thing that concerns me about the Internet is the sensationalizing of issues by focusing on the lurid, the sordid, and the â€“ yes, sensational. A great deal of what appears on the Internet is unmediated and written by people with dubious credentials. Perhaps even worse is that the mainstream media are now following the lead of this sensational approach, this in an effort to sell more papers at a time when the â€œOld Mediaâ€ is in steep decline.
In addition to the Internet, there are other new electronic tools like shoot and share video cameras (e.g., the Flip), mobile phones, etc. Unfortunately many of the resulting images find their way onto YouTube. And of course it’s difficult to stop, since so much of it can be done anonymously.
Another change is the increased visibility of GLBT teens who are coming out earlier and in greater numbers than ever before, thus making themselves easier targets.
Lastly, it’s my belief that teens today are less empathetic than ever before thanks to their constant exposure to â€œcyberpeopleâ€ instead of the real flesh and blood kind; and because of their constant exposure to violence on the Net and also in the form of videogames.
What resources or words of advice would you recommend to librarians to share with teens that are being bullied?
- First of all they need to lend a sympathetic ear to teens who are being affected and they need to make it clear they will respect teens desire for confidentiality.
- Post a notice that teens/kids who are being bullied and harassed are always invited to talk to the Librarian (s).
- Let it be known that he/she has information about local organizations that can help.
- Report incidents to the school administration and monitor follow-up.
- The Librarian might tell affected teens to try to ignore the bullying, since that is often a way to stop it.
- Personalize all services by getting to know the patrons.
- Sponsor a Gay/Straight Alliance.
- Humanize GLBT teens by booktalking and by insuring the library is well stocked with good books having GLBT content. (Perhaps they can use their Teen Advisory Group to help get these books not only into the hands of GLBT teens but also into the hands of straight teens).
What resources can you recommend?
MC: For more information on empathy, check out this article in the NY Times, “Gossip Girls and Boys Get Lessons in Empathy (April, 2009)“.
There are also national organizations such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Gay Straight Alliance network.
Feel free to share your own thoughts below.