It has been almost a year since Jamey Rodemeyer, a bullied freshman high school student from MY community, committed suicide. These things don’t happen in MY community – or do they? Obviously, they do.
Prior to the tragic event, Jamey was bullied while in middle school by other students after he came out as a bisexual. This bullying continued as he entered high school. He tried to work through his own misery by documenting his experience and giving inspiration to other bullied gay and bisexual teens. He shot a video just a year earlier, as part of a campaign called "It Gets Better". Meet Jamey: “It Gets Better”.
Jamey documented for the world his challenges and, what appeared at the time to be his successes in the face of bullying. He advised to ignore the taunts of others, accept and love yourself and hold your head up high to move forward in life. Unfortunately for Jamey, it really did not “Get Better”, as he was unable to stave off his own suffering, which resulted in him taking his own life on September 18, 2011.
Dan Savage, the co-founder of It Gets Better, who is an advice columnist by trade, summed it up in a blog he wrote by saying:
The point of the "It Gets Better" project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn't enough. Sometimes the damage done by hate and by haters is simply too great. Sometimes the future seems too remote. And those are the times our hearts break.
There is no doubt, however, that Jamey was a huge inspiration to other desperate and depressed teenagers, whether bullied or not, to take charge of their lives in a world full of hate. Because of the international acclaim associated with Jamey’s death, through the likes of Lady GaGa, who was his idol, a great deal of necessary attention has been brought to these long-standing and extremely negative acts of hatred, which in modern-times are hugely amplified by social media.
One of the issues MY community faced was the local frustration when it learned that there were no “bullying” laws in New York upon which the police could hang their hats to criminally prosecute the accused bullies. How is that possible in MY community in this day and age? Again, it apparently was not only possible but, in fact, the case. So what has New York done since Jamey's death to change this glaring omission in our criminal justice system? Not all that much on a wide-spread scale, however, there has been movement to broaden the responsibilities and abilities of the schools to curb bullying when it is brought to their attention.
On July 1, 2012, New York enacted an Anti-Bullying law, DASA (Dignity for All Students Act). Prior to the enactment of the law, the DASA Task Force, a group of bullying experts from a variety of fields, including education, social services and government, researched and developed what they believe to be the best strategies for preventing bullying. In their opinion, the best course involves education efforts that prize respect, tolerance, and individual differences. As discussed by Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, the chief sponsor of the bill:
As parents, educators, and former students ourselves, New Yorkers are all well aware of the great harm bullying can cause. I am proud that today schools will have new, more effective tools to curb this harmful epidemic. By discouraging discrimination and emphasizing inclusion, schools will stop harassment before it occurs and help protect both victims and bullies from lifelong damage.
Since our children spend so much time in school, this is a step in the right direction. In my humble opinion, however, something much more fundamental needs to be done. Parents must teach their children to not only respect but also deeply care about other human beings. Although this is a basic tenet in life, because our society seems to be stressing social media rather than human interaction, our children are all at risk of losing their humanity. If we don’t take a step back and reflect on why something as horrific as bullying between children is growing in our society, while at the same time the adults "appear" to be moving liberally forward by legislating things such as same sex marriages, our children have no chance of being truly tolerant of human differences. As parents, we must remain strong role models for our children.
I accept that a lot of work needs to be done in MY community to make it the type of community in which I am proud to live. I pledge to do MY part and challenge you to do the same.