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Reducing school bullying: ‘We can’t do this on our own’

Photo by Michael Geldert
Lane Geldert: "I feel that I’ve impacted a part of history that could eventually grow."

Last in a series

Three years ago, Lane Geldert lost her best friend, Samatha Johnson, in a wave of suicides among Anoka-Hennepin School District students who were bullied because of their perceived sexual or gender orientation. In March, Geldert, now 16, was present when school board members approved the landmark settlement of a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by her and other students. After the historic vote, the plaintiffs braved a phalanx of reporters and TV cameras.

I lost my best friend my seventh-grade year due to bullying and other personal issues, and I viewed this as a way to help save me and live for her and save other people so they don’t have to live what I had to go through and lose someone as dear to them as I did.

When we were there [at the board meeting,] it was very nerve-racking. There were so many emotions going on. I was practically terrified. I was still kind of angry seeing the [board members] up there.

I really had no idea what was going to happen. The way that I felt about it, I was basically putting my story out there so I could help the neutrality policy be repealed, and I was leaving it up to my attorneys to set it straight for me. I hoped that me being a part of it would help it succeed.

Before we found out there was so many things going through my head. What’s going on? Are we going to win? Are we going to be able to get this through? What are the cameras going to do? Who’s watching? Who’s seeing this? All those different things.

But after, when we came out in the lobby with all the cameras, I started crying because I was so relieved and happy and I was proud of all that [Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Sam Wolfe] and everybody helped us accomplish.

I’m glad I saw it out firsthand and not in the news. I really didn’t have any words to say. I’m surprised that any of us really got to talk, because we were all in shock and relief.

Minnesota Moments 2012I’m happiest that [the plaintiffs and I] were able to start a change, able to start something that could help other LGBT students, questioning students, feel safer at school and maybe start, basically, a domino effect to helping future students.

Later I went to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. [for a recognition ceremony at the U.S. Department of Justice]. I’ve also been to New York, but that was for the CNN interview.

This year it’s gotten a bit better. I’ve been able to talk to my teachers a lot more. I’ve had more support from them and also my counselors, too. I’ve been called on more and checked in on.

I guess it made me feel that people would see that we, the students, need help and that we can’t do this on our own and without support. It kind of made us feel like people were caring about us. I feel that I’ve impacted a part of history that could eventually grow, I guess.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/02/2013 - 10:10 am.

    One of the paradoxes

    …of adolescence, at least in my classroom experience, is that – while sometimes going to great lengths to distance themselves from what they perceive to be “conventional,” “stifling,” and “conformist” – teenagers can simultaneously insist upon the same kind of conformity amidst and among their peers.

    In line with other parts of the society, many of the kids I had in class were tolerant of, even advocates for, difference in the abstract, but were considerably less tolerant of that same kind of difference when it was expressed or displayed by the girl or boy sitting next to them in class. It was a useful lesson – not always learned, obviously – in how the real world was often quite unlike the ideal. I had kids in class who were Rocky Horror fans, a few even adopting the identities and costumes of characters in the film, including memorizing lines and being audience-participators from time to time, but who, at the same time, saw no incongruity in their disdain for fellow students who displayed even a hint of potential sexual kink or deviance.

    As thoughtful adults ought to be able to confess, it’s sometimes a tough act to get one’s professed values in line with one’s actual behavior.

  2. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 01/02/2013 - 12:41 pm.

    Important insights

    Thanks for sharing this, Beth. One of the most important things that adults, whether educators or family members can do with/for adolescents is listen carefully. Beth obviously listened carefully to Lane, and then took the next valuable step – of acting on what she said.

    Not every idea an adult or adolescent has is worth sharing, much less trying to implement. But the wisest schools are open to student ideas and insights. Some suggestions can be very helpful.

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